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Can you use bankruptcy to eliminate past-due child support?

One estimate is that parents pay at least $33 billion in child support annually in the U.S. The truth is that less than half of custodial parents ever receive the full payment that the court initially ordered. 

If you’re behind on your child support and are worried about the consequences, is bankruptcy an option? Not really. Bankruptcy can free you from other debts and make your child support more affordable, but it won’t eliminate your support obligation.

Why you can’t discharge your obligation to make support payments in a bankruptcy

Support payments (including both child support and spousal support) fall into the category of domestic support obligations (DSOs) and thus don’t qualify for a discharge in bankruptcy, DSOs are any financial obligations subject to a separate agreement where other laws, such as state ones, apply instead of U.S. bankruptcy codes. 

What are your options for handling your child support?

You may feel some disappointment to learn that you can’t alleviate yourself of your obligation to pay spousal or child support by filing bankruptcy — but that doesn’t mean you’re out of options. If eliminating your other debts through bankruptcy still won’t allow you to make your support payments, you may be able to seek a modification order through the court that reduces what you need to pay.

Filing a modification request should be accompanied by supporting evidence such as proof of a reduction in income, illness or other life-changing circumstances. It’s important to note, however, that modifications only apply to future support payments — any past support that’s due will still need to be paid. For that reason, it’s wise to seek a modification as soon as you know that you may need one. An attorney can help you learn more.

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