Although each state may determine its own bankruptcy exemptions, federal law governs the overall structure and purpose of bankruptcy law. In general, all 50 states must follow the same rule for child support and alimony:
- Domestic support obligations are not dischargeable in either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy.
Furthermore, domestic support obligations are considered priority debt. Chapter 13 trustees must repay priority debts in their entirety before even beginning to pay back other unsecured debts, and in a Chapter 7 case, these debts are non-dischargeable and you remain liable on the debt. In brief, if you are on the hook for child support or alimony before you declare bankruptcy, you will still be responsible for child support or alimony after you declare bankruptcy. You are obligated to pay back child support and alimony if you have fallen behind.
In an unusual case, Judge Murphy, a Bankruptcy Judge in Georgia, addressed what happens when one spouse overpays a domestic support obligation and the other spouse ends up declaring bankruptcy. In other words, the person declaring bankruptcy had received more in child support than her ex-spouse owed her. In In re Knott, decided in October 2012, the Judge held that the debt she incurred to her ex-spouse by accepting excessive domestic support obligation payments while her ex-spouse provided the majority of the child care was in fact a return of support to him and must be re-paid to him.
These are the types of issues your bankruptcy attorney can guide you through.