How Does Bankruptcy Affect Child Support Debt?

If you plan to file for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy, it's important to understand that you cannot get rid of child support obligations or child support arrearages through bankruptcy. This rule extends to any type of domestic support obligation. There is one small exception, but it rarely arises.  

What is a Domestic Support Obligation?

A domestic support obligation is child support, alimony, or any other debt that is in the nature of child support, maintenance, or alimony.  

A domestic support obligation is nondischargeable if it was established:  

  • through a separation agreement, divorce, or property settlement agreement
  • by a court order authorized by law, or
  • by a child support enforcement agency (or other government agency) determination.

How Child Support is Treated in Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

In Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you are able to wipe out (discharge) most of your debts. In return, you must give up nonexempt property. The bankruptcy trustee sells this property and uses the proceeds to pay your creditors.

Not all debts are dischargeable, however. The bankruptcy code carves out some types of debts that you will continue to owe despite your Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Domestic support obligations are one of the types of debts that cannot be wiped out in bankruptcy.

How Child Support is Treated in Chapter 13 Bankruptcy

In Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you keep your property and repay your debts through a Chapter 13 repayment plan. Some debts must be paid in full. Others might be paid in part -- the remainder will be discharged at the end of the repayment period. (To learn more about Chapter 13 bankruptcy and the repayment plan, see Chapter 13 Bankruptcy: An Overview.)

Here's how domestic support obligations are treated in Chapter 13 bankruptcy:

  • Domestic support obligations owed directly to a child or ex-spouse must be paid in full through your Chapter 13 repayment plan.  
  • Domestic support obligations owed to a government child support collection agency do not have to paid in full during the life of your repayment plan. However, any amount remaining after your plan is finished is not discharged -- you'll still owe it. For example, if you owe $10,000 to a child support collection agency and you pay $5,000 through your plan, you will still owe the remaining $5,000 after you receive your Chapter 13 discharge.  

For More Information

If you are filing for bankruptcy and want to know if income you receive from child support will affect your case in any way, see How Is Income From Child Support Treated in Bankruptcy?

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