Many non-custodial parents (NCPs) have been tempted to wipe away their child support debt through bankruptcy, but they soon realize bankruptcy law does not treat all debts the same. Some debt, like child support debt, is prioritized above other forms of debt, meaning they are considered more important than other debts and cannot be discharged so easily. In fact, priority child support will survive bankruptcy and must be repaid.
Also, even typical temporary protections like the automatic stay, which stops debt collectors from going after debtors, does not apply to child support debt. Collectors may still attempt to collect support debt for the benefit of the child (although a Chapter 13 filing may grant a debtor a bit more protection under the stay since the creditor must first file to get the court to grant them relief from the stay).
However, there are some benefits to child support debt when an NCP files for bankruptcy. For instance, an insolvent NCP who is drowning in debt, may find it easier to afford his child support payments and/or arrears payments after a discharge of non-support debt (Chapter 7) or a structured repayment of non-support debt (Chapter 13). A Chapter 13 debtor paying through a court ordered plan still needs to pay off his support arrears before he can get a final discharge, although such straight payments under the eyes of the court may be beneficial in the long run if it means not dealing with creditors alone or not having to choose between paying off angry creditors and supporting dependent children.
Best tip if you’re contemplating filing for bankruptcy? Keep making your support payments toward your child support debt. Not only will this protect you from child support creditors who are allowed to go after you after you’ve filed for bankruptcy, but the debt will likely stick around anyway, so you might as well get a head start on paying it down.