Divorce can be an expensive process with lasting financial consequences. After paying thousands of dollars to a divorce attorney, the income-producing spouse may be saddled with ongoing child support and spousal support obligations. As child and spousal support awards impose a financial burden, many supporting parents wonder whether child support and spousal support can be eliminated in chapter 7 bankruptcy.
Domestic Support Obligations
The Bankruptcy Code defines domestic support obligations as:
a debt that accrues before, on, or after the date of the order for relief… including interest that accrues on that debt as provided under applicable nonbankruptcy law… that is—
- owed to or recoverable by a spouse, former spouse, or child of the debtor or such child’s parent, legal guardian, or responsible relative or governmental unit;
- in the nature of alimony, maintenance, or support (including assistance provided by a governmental unit) of such spouse, former spouse, or child of the debtor or such child’s parent, without regard to whether such debt is expressly so designated;
- established or subject to establishment before, on, or after the date of the order for relief in a case under this title, by reason of applicable provisions of a separation agreement, divorce decree, or property settlement agreement; an order of a court of record; or a determination made in accordance with applicable nonbankruptcy law by a governmental unit; and
- not assigned to a nongovernmental entity, unless that obligation is assigned voluntarily by the spouse, former spouse, child of the debtor, or such child’s parent, legal guardian, or responsible relative for the purpose of collecting the debt.
With such a broad definition, domestic support obligations in bankruptcy include child support and spousal support.
Nondischargeable in Chapter 7 Bankruptcy
Section 523(a)(5) states clearly that “domestic support obligations” are nondischargeable. In other words, child support and spousal support cannot be eliminated in chapter 7 bankruptcy.