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Can child and spousal support debts be discharged in bankruptcy?

Life often presents us with many head-slapping moments and the question "Why didn't I think of that earlier?" One of those questions, most frequently asked after a divorce proceeding is complete, is whether obligations for spousal support and child support can be discharged in a bankruptcy proceeding. This question most often arises when an ex-spouse wants to torment their former spouse by threatening to file a bankruptcy petition. Fortunately for ex-spouses entitled to receive either alimony or child support, these debts cannot be discharged.

The United States Bankruptcy Code lists a number of debts that cannot be discharged in a bankruptcy proceeding. Examples include debts obtained through fraud, along with state and federal taxes. Also on the list of non-dischargeable debts is debts for domestic support obligations. The bankruptcy code defines a domestic support obligation as any debt that is owed to or recoverable by a spouse, former spouse or child of the debtor or by the child's parent, legal guardian or responsible relative.

The domestic support obligation must have been established by a separation agreement, court order or in accordance with applicable non-bankruptcy law. The debt must also have been established before, on, or after an order for relief issued by the bankruptcy court. In short, an order to pay alimony or child support cannot be affected in any way by a bankruptcy proceeding.

Anyone who receives an order for discharge enumerating a debt that appears to be a domestic support obligation may wish to contact an experienced attorney for advice.

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