Filing for Bankruptcy? You Still Have to Pay Child Support

Posted June 12, 2012 in Child Custody and Support by

A Florida man almost escaped $180,000 in past-due child support when his ex-wife and the state didn’t bother to claim the debt during his bankruptcy proceedings, but a federal court has affirmed that he still owes the money nevertheless .

  • Man faced involuntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy
  • State didn’t claim back support payments until after bankruptcy court had discharged them
  • Important to pursue debts in a timely manner

 

Debt Still Stands

When Michael Davis was forced to file for bankruptcy in 2008, he certainly couldn’t have expected his child support debt to be discharged. He had been divorced from his wife for over 10 years, and had run up $180,000 in arrears. In the meantime, other creditors filed an involuntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy against Davis, which gave the people and entities he owed money to six months to file claims against him.

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Neither Davis’ ex-wife, nor the Florida Department of Revenue, put in a claim for the back child support. It was only after the bankruptcy court discharged the debt that the Department of Revenue filed a petition to collect the $180,000. The bankruptcy court blocked the department from trying to collect on the money, claiming it had simply missed the deadline and it was impossible to re-litigate the matter, but a district court stepped in and reversed the decision. After more appeals, the federal 11th Circuit Court of Appeals laid down the final decision: the debt still stands.

“Because domestic support obligations cannot be discharged in bankruptcy and because the discharge injunction only applied to dischargeable debts, it was not a violation of the bankruptcy court’s discharge injunction for the Department to pursue a debt owed for a child support obligation in state court after the bankruptcy plan was confirmed,” the appeals court wrote in its decision, citing a prior precedent. “To rule otherwise, we noted, would allow the bankruptcy court to effectively modify a state child-support order, embroiling the bankruptcy court in state domestic relations.”

 

Don’t Let the Years Go By

The Department of Revenue should have filed its claim against Davis in a timely manner, but the lesson here is that regardless of mistakes and errors by the people and entities owed money, parents simply cannot hope to get rid of their child support obligations through bankruptcy. “Child support has not been dischargeable in bankruptcy court for decades, but the 2005 amendments to the bankruptcy code clarified that no debt arising which was in the nature of domestic relations, like child support, alimony, or a divorce debt, could be discharged,” says Brent Rose, a Florida attorney who practices both family law and bankruptcy law. “Congress was sending out a message that, if child support was ever thought to be dischargeable before, it wasn’t dischargeable after the 2005 amendment.”

However, the entire situation would be much less complex and all parties involved would have been saved a lot of time-consuming legal wrangling if the Florida Department of Revenue and/or Davis’ ex-wife had simply followed the rules and made sure they had their claim in on time. “Neither the mother nor the Department of Revenue filed any claim in bankruptcy asking that the debt not be discharged. You can’t just ignore your right to collect child support then run to the court for help once the court says the right to collect support has been erased,” Rose says. “I meet with people all the time who let the child support bill run up into the tens of thousands then, decades later, expect to go to the judge and get the person owing the support thrown in jail. If someone owes you support, don’t let the years go by.”

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