Will I Lose my Alimony if my Ex Files for Bankruptcy?

When it comes to the complexities that come with divorce, most divorced couples find that one of the most stressful aspects is – you guessed it – money. Both parties will feel the effects of their divorce in the two places it hurts most – the heart and the wallet.

Regardless of how intertwined you and your (soon to be ex) partner kept your finances when you were married, going from living on two incomes to scraping by on one is never easy. This is especially true if you are the spouse who makes less money, was a stay-at-home parent, or have been otherwise dependent on your partner financially.

If your marriage resulted in children and they’ll be living with you after the divorce, you’ll be able to benefit from child support payments from the non-custodial parent.

Children or not, you may also benefit from alimony in order to help you maintain the quality of life you enjoyed while married.

In theory, the concepts of child support and alimony can help a newly single parent stay out of debt and continue paying all of the bills on time. The reality, of course, is that not every person will come through with the payments – for a number of potential reasons. A big question on many splitting couples’ minds is:

What Happens if my Ex Files for Bankruptcy?

Prior to 2005, filing for bankruptcy in New Jersey could help lower the amount of child or alimony support an ex-spouse had to pay each month. Luckily, amendments made in 2005 to the Bankruptcy Code set stricter enforcements into place to protect individuals who are entitled to domestic support obligations.

In Section 523, the U.S. Bankruptcy Code delineates that “domestic support obligations” are not dischargeable when an individual files for bankruptcy. In addition to alimony, “domestic support obligations” also include child support and money owed to the petitioner’s former spouse, child, legal guardian, or the government.

The spouse entitled to receive support may understandably be quite nervous if the other party files for bankruptcy after their divorce. Because of the 2005 amendments, the receiving spouse doesn’t even have to file a claim with the Bankruptcy Court.

What About the Automatic Stay?

As soon an individual files for bankruptcy, all creditors are obligated to stop collecting debt money. This is known as an automatic stay. The collection of alimony or child support does not fall under the enforcement of an automatic stay; rather, it is held in higher priority under the Bankruptcy Code. In other words, before any other debts from creditors are considered, alimony and child support need to be paid.

There is no difference between Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy when it comes to alimony. Individuals who file for either chapter are still required to pay (in full) any alimony and/or child support obligations.

Are There any Exceptions?

There are two very specific situations in which “alimony” can be discharged in bankruptcy.

  1. Sometimes, a divorce decree states that one spouse has a monetary obligation to be paid to a spouse, and it is mis-labeled as “Alimony.” If it is determined that the obligation is not actually alimony, then it can be discharged. For example, the divorce decree may state that “Husband shall be responsible for $10,000 of a debt accrued during the marriage (often credit card debt).” At times, items like this can be labeled incorrectly as alimony, when in fact, it is completely separate from alimony. Once this monetary obligation has been legally determined as “non-alimony,” it then becomes dischargeable.
  2. The second exception occurs if an individual has a monetary obligation to a third party. For example, Bob and Mary Jones divorce, and Bob is required to pay Mary $1000.00 per month. Bob decides not to pay the alimony, so Mary assigns her father the responsibility of collecting the alimony. Mary still needs the money and her father distributes it to her, but there is no record of that. Now that Mary’s father is responsible for collecting the alimony, if Bob files for bankruptcy, the order to pay alimony can be discharged since it was assigned to a third party.

Help with a New Jersey Bankruptcy

If your ex does file for bankruptcy, they may be granted forgiveness of other debts like credit card debt, or past utility bills.


TO BE CLEAR: It is not possible for your ex to file for bankruptcy in order to get out of paying domestic support. They can file for bankruptcy, but they cannot discharge child support OR alimony.


 

Paying alimony or being entitled to receive alimony while filing for bankruptcy can be a sticky situation for all of those who are involved. Rifts between family members can occur, and they normally don’t end well.

If you are the person filing for bankruptcy, work with an experienced NJ bankruptcy attorney rather than trying to go it alone to ensure that all of your obligations are being met. In the end, it will be well worth your investment of time and money.