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Can child support arrears be discharged in a bankruptcy?

On Behalf of | Aug 4, 2023 | Family Law

Fewer than half of the custodial parents in West Virginia and around the country receive the correct amount of child support each month. Noncustodial parents who fall behind on their child support payments can be denied driver’s licenses and have their wages garnished, and noncustodial parents who willfully and repeatedly ignore child support orders can be sent to jail. Filing a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 personal bankruptcy may provide debt relief and offer the chance of a fresh start, but it will not allow a noncustodial parent to escape their child support obligations.

Child support in bankruptcy

Credit card bills, auto loans and medical debts can be discharged in a personal bankruptcy, but some obligations cannot be discharged. Debts that are excepted from discharge in a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy include most unpaid federal, state and local taxes, student loans and domestic support obligations. Child support ordered by a court or included in a divorce settlement is considered a domestic support obligation, which means noncustodial parents must continue to make their monthly payments even if they file for bankruptcy.

Alimony and property settlements

When family law attorneys negotiate property division settlements, spouses who would be entitled to receive alimony sometimes choose to take a lump sum payment instead. When this happens, some of the money paid under the provisions of the property division settlement are really alimony. When divorced spouses file for bankruptcy, the court studies their divorce settlements carefully to make sure obligations related to alimony, maintenance or support are not discharged.

Excepted debts

Noncustodial parents who do not pay court-ordered child support can face severe consequences, and they cannot escape their obligations by filing for bankruptcy. Obligations related to domestic maintenance, alimony or support are excepted debts in a personal bankruptcy, which means they cannot be discharged.