What happens to unpaid child support and alimony under bankruptcy law?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 15, 2021

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Unpaid support obligations like child support and alimony will not be reduced in bankruptcy. BAPCPA elevates domestic support obligations to top priority in an asset case under Chapter 7, where there are funds available to pay creditors. Domestic support obligations are not dischargeable. The law no longer distinguishes between debts for alimony or support (which were also not dischargeable under prior law) and debts arising from property settlements (which were sometimes dischargeable under prior law); both kinds of debt are not dischargeable.

It remains true that a Chapter 13 plan must provide for full payment of priority debts, including arrearages in domestic support obligations. Furthermore, to obtain a discharge in a Chapter 13 case, the debtor will have to certify that all post-petition domestic support obligations have been met.

Case trustees in both Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 cases are now obligated to make certain disclosures to a domestic support creditor, such as an ex- or separated spouse, including the debtor’s most recent known address at the time of discharge.

Even though your unpaid support obligation will not be discharged in bankruptcy, bankruptcy may still be an option for your situation. Child support and alimony can be included in calculations for the means test that you are required to satisfy in order to file a Chapter 7 petition. Regardless of which type of bankruptcy you file, reduction of other debts that are dischargeable, like credit card debts or medical bills, can improve your financial situation so that you can afford to make your support obligations. 

If you want to change the amount that you pay on a monthly basis for child support, you will have to petition the court where the order originated. If you are considering this type of modification and a bankruptcy filing, you may want to consult an attorney that has expertise in both areas to see which you should proceed with first. 

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