Filing for personal bankruptcy does not allow you to avoid paying debts of support to your family. Bankruptcy law calls these debts domestic support obligations, or DSOs. Child support is a DSO, so you can't erase past due payments by filing for either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13. Bankruptcy can make catching up with your child support a little easier, however.
Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Does Not Eliminate Child Support
When you file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the trustee sells your property and gives the money to your creditors. If you have no property to sell, or if the trustee doesn't raise enough money to pay all your debts, they're discharged or erased. Child support isn't dischargeable, and it's the first debt your trustee will pay after he sells your property. After your bankruptcy is over, you'll still owe both past-due and current payments. Getting rid of your other debts, however, might make your child support payments easier to handle.
You Can Include Child Support in Your Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Plan
In a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you give your bankruptcy trustee the money you have left over after paying your living expenses each month. The trustee uses this money to pay down your debts over three to five years. At the end of that time, if your creditors haven't received all that you owe them, the balance is usually erased. Child support is an exception. You can include past-due child support in your repayment plan, but if you don't pay it off completely as part of the plan, it doesn't go away. You still owe the balance. Unless you're current with your child support at the end of your repayment plan, the bankruptcy court won't discharge your other debts, either.
You May Still Have to Pay Child-Related Debts
If a family court orders you to pay medical insurance or tuition for your child, either as part of your child support or in addition to it, these debts are also DSOs. Both Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcies treat them just the same as child support.
The Terms of Your Support Order Can Make a Difference
Your divorce decree or child support order might say that you must pay certain expenses for your child instead of child support. For example, you might make the mortgage payment on the home where your child lives instead of paying cash support to his other parent. Bankruptcy sometimes erases these debts, but you'll probably need a lawyer to help you argue that they should be dischargeable.
A Personal Bankruptcy Lawyer Can Help
The law surrounding child support and personal bankruptcy is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a bankruptcy lawyer.