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If my ex-spouse files for Bankruptcy, can they discharge support they owe?

We recently posted this answer on our Bankruptcy Blog and thought that it could be useful to our family law audience as well.

Under the current Bankruptcy Code, a debtor who files a Chapter 7 bankruptcy will not receive a discharge from debts defined in paragraph 5 of 11 U.S.C. § 523(a) as "domestic support obligations" or debts under 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(15) owed "to a spouse, former spouse, or child of the debtor and not of the kind described in paragraph (5) that is incurred by the debtor in the course of a divorce or separation or in connection with a separation agreement, divorce decree or other order of a court of record, or a determination made in accordance with State or territorial law by a governmental unit."

"Domestic support obligations" are defined by 11 U.S.C. § 101(14A) as debts "in the nature of alimony, maintenance, or support" owed to a spouse, former spouse, or child.

These limitations on dischargability therefore apply to both child support and alimony, as well as other potential obligations under a divorce decree, such as agreements to pay joint debts or obligation to pay an ex-spouses attorney fees.

If your ex-spouse does file for bankruptcy, you may need to file responsive pleadings and argue this issue in front of a Judge if the debtor seeks to discharge the debt. If you fail to dispute the discharge, that could result in the debt being discharged. Though this is very unlikely, if you are not sure how to protect your rights you should consult with an attorney.

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