Debts ordered to be paid in Divorce Decree are not dischargeable in Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

Since 2005, the Bankruptcy law has been relatively clear that nearly any obligation resulting from a dissolution of marriage proceeding is not dischargeable in bankruptcy, whether that is in the nature of a domestic support obligation (11 USC 523(a)(5)) or a property/debt settlement (11 USC 523 (a)(15). The Missouri Court of Appeals has reiterated this in a recent ruling.

Recent case: Henderson v. Henderson, No. 98357 (Mo. App. E.D., December 26, 2012)

The parties were divorced in 2010. They entered into an agreement which set forth their respective obligations to pay certain debts of the marriage. Throughout the agreement, there was language that the agreement to pay said debts and hold the other harmless thereon was not dischargeable in bankruptcy. Nevertheless, the ex-husband sought the discharge of his portion of those obligations in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing in 2011. His petition for discharge was granted, and the ex-wife had not objected to same in bankruptcy court.

Thereafter, ex-wife filed an action against ex-husband for a contempt citation related to the debts he got discharged. The ex-husband argued that she waived her right to object by failing to file anything in the bankruptcy proceeding. The trial court only required the ex-husband to pay a portion of the debt in question. It determined that only a portion of the debt was in the nature of a domestic obligation non-dischargeable in bankruptcy.

However, it held the ex-husband responsible for a portion of the discharged debt. Both parties appealed.

Held: Reversed.

Under current Chapter 7 bankruptcy law (11 U.S.C. § 523 (a)), “‘all debts owed to a spouse, former spouse, or child of a debtor are non-dischargeable if incurred in the course of a divorce proceeding, notwithstanding the debtor’s ability to pay the debt or the relative benefits and detriments to the parties.’ In re: Tarone, 434 B.R. 41, 48 (Bankr. E.D. N.Y. 2010).”

Thus, a property settlement obligation encompassed by 11 U.S.C. § 523 (a)(15) is non-dischargeable. The trial court erred in finding the debt partially dischargeable.

From the Missouri Bar Courts Bulletin March Edition

Note: Some debts of this type may be dischargeable in Chapter 13 proceedings.