Child support and spousal support are referred to as domestic support obligations in the Bankruptcy Code. A former spouse that files bankruptcy cannot avoid paying domestic support obligations. However (you knew what was coming), any support that was owed as of the date of the bankruptcy filing may not be paid to the obligee spouse immediately. There is an automatic stay in bankruptcy proceedings that is not applicable to domestic support obligations. Any assets that the debtor spouse owns at the time of filing bankruptcy become property of the bankruptcy estate and cannot be paid to the child support recipient spouse until the payment is approved by the trustee and confirmed by the Bankruptcy Court.
If the bankruptcy estate is a large estate and there are many creditors, then waiting for child support owed prior to the filing of the bankruptcy could take several months or years until the support is received. Any child support due after the date of the bankruptcy filing can be collected as it becomes due by the usual enforcement remedies, including garnishing wages, execution on real and personal property, and contempt. However, you cannot enforce the child support obligations that are due after the date of filing of the bankruptcy by executing on assets of the debtor spouse that are property of the bankruptcy estate.
Wallace S. Fingerett a Certified Family Law Specialist, is a partner at Feinberg Mindel Brandt & Klein in Los Angeles. He practices Family Law exclusively.