Can your ex discharge their child support obligation by filing bankruptcy?

Each year here in the U.S., at least $33 billion dollars in child support is supposed to be exchanged among parents. Yet, government statistics show that approximately only half of all custodial parents receive what they’re due.

Many parents who pay support consider it a huge financial drain — especially if they get behind. When that happens, they may start looking for relief, and some will turn to bankruptcy. They’re often quite disappointed to learn that bankruptcy doesn’t have this effect.

Why doesn’t bankruptcy alleviate a parent’s burden to pay child support?

A parent’s child support obligations can’t magically get discharged via bankruptcy as it’s considered domestic support obligations (DSOs). Spousal and child support are separate court orders determined by general state law instead of the bankruptcy code, unlike credit card bills, medical bills and other consumer debts. This explains why the latter debts can be discharged in bankruptcy while child support cannot.

A parent who is in arrears on their child support payments, for example, will still need to catch up and stay current with their obligation in the future to avoid penalties, a driver’s license suspension and jail time for making untimely payments.

Now, while child support isn’t dischargeable in bankruptcy, some property of debt division agreements may be. Cash in lieu of other assets and hold harmless agreements are two examples of debts potentially dischargeable in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

What options might your ex have to reduce their child support obligation?

You likely count on the child support you receive to raise your child. Even though your ex can’t discharge their obligation to pay via bankruptcy, they might be able to do so if they suffer an injury, become unemployed or face some other hardship. You must put up a solid argument in court as to why a judge shouldn’t reduce the support you receive if you hope to retain the status quo.