The past few years have been tough financially on many people who used to have no serious financial worries. For some people, bankruptcy is the best way to get out from under crushing debt and start fresh.
What if one of those people is your ex-spouse and co-parent? They’ve (mostly) been able to keep up with their child support payments, and you count on that money to help cover your child’s expenses and contribute to their overall care. What will happen to their obligation to pay child support and to any back support they still owe you?
What happens to child support obligations?
First, it’s important to know that child support is protected under bankruptcy laws. A person with a court order to pay support cannot escape it by filing for bankruptcy. The same is true for alimony. These fall under the category of “domestic support obligations” or DSOs in bankruptcy law.
That doesn’t mean that your co-parent can’t seek a modification of any support orders based on changes in their financial status. They will likely do that if they haven’t already. However, it would only affect support moving forward, and a judge would have to consider all sides of the matter before agreeing to a modification.
What about past-due payments?
If your co-parent owes you back child support (often referred to as “payment in arrears,”) their bankruptcy likely won’t change their obligation to pay the money they owe. Typically, bankruptcy courts can’t discharge debts “in the nature of support” of a child, as they’re called in bankruptcy law. That includes any other debt your ex has taken on for your child, like medical bills. They will likely still be responsible for what they owe. They can’t just push that over to you.
The same is true if you divided other debts as part of your property settlement agreement. Your ex is still responsible for the debts they took on in your agreement unless they’re discharged.
Bankruptcy by an ex-spouse, even if your divorce has been final for some time, can be confusing and even a little frightening. There’s a lot of misinformation out there. It may be wise to get some legal guidance so that you understand and can protect your rights.