Law Offices of Nicholas Gebelt

Are Debts for Spousal Support or Child Support Eligible for Discharge in a Bankruptcy?

The short answer is no: Spousal support and child support are absolutely never eligible for discharge, regardless of the chapter of bankruptcy.

There are two types of debts to a spouse or a former spouse. One is child support or alimony (generally referred to as domestic support), and the other is a debt to a spouse or a former spouse that was incurred as part of a separation agreement or a divorce decree, that is not domestic support. The second type is dischargeable in a completed Chapter 13, but not in any other chapter of the Bankruptcy Code. However, the first type, a domestic support obligation, is absolutely never dischargeable in bankruptcy.

If you think about it, this is actually a good public policy because we don’t want a parent (let’s use the stereotype of a deadbeat dad) deciding he just doesn’t want to take care of his obligations to his ex-wife and children, and walking away from those obligations by filing a bankruptcy. He’s not going to get rid of that obligation in bankruptcy.

Domestic support obligations do create some interesting scenarios. I knew a guy, an attorney, who was doing very well for himself when his wife divorced him, for whatever reason, and gutted him. Even with his large salary, he was living in a studio apartment and eating ramen because she’d taken everything. At that point, he didn’t see a reason to continue, so he quit his job and moved in with his girlfriend, who was willing to support him. So that was that. Because the ex-wife was so grasping, she ended up with nothing. He no longer had to pay her since he wasn’t working.

While he could have filed a bankruptcy, he would not have been able to get rid of the domestic support obligation. He chose instead to get rid of the obligation in a different way. This is a message to spouses who decide it’s time to divorce their spouses: If you don’t leave something on the table, you may end up getting nothing at all, even though you have a piece of paper that’s a judgment. In sum, both sides have to be reasonable in a divorce.

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