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Archive for the ‘child and spousal support arrearage’ tag

Conditions for Stopping Support Collections in Chapter 13

January 19th, 2020 at 8:00 am

Chapter 13 immediately stops the collection of past-due child or spousal support. But to keep that protection you must meet some conditions.  


Last week we showed how Chapter 13 stops the collection of unpaid child and spousal support, while Chapter 7 doesn’t. But we ended by emphasizing that anyone can quickly lose this huge benefit of Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts”. Avoiding this requires strictly complying with some conditions. These conditions are arguably sensible ones. But you need to know and understand them so you don’t lose this crucial Chapter 13 benefit. Because these conditions are so important we focus today’s entire blog post on them.

Ongoing Child and Spousal Support

But before we get to these conditions we need to make a strong point. We’re talking here about child and/or spousal support that is unpaid, past-due, at the time of the bankruptcy filing. This past-due support is different from ongoing support. 

Ongoing support is the support you need to keep paying, usually on a monthly basis, after your bankruptcy lawyer files your bankruptcy case. Past-due support is any amount of support that you’re behind on as of that filing date.  Ongoing support is the support due after that filing date.

Filing bankruptcy does NOT stop the collection of any ongoing support, under either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13. The “automatic stay” that protects you from creditor collections does not apply. (See Section 362(b)(2)(B) of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code—where ongoing support is called “domestic support obligation.”) So, if you are paying support by direct payments, you need to keep paying those after filing bankruptcy.  If you are paying through a payroll deduction or by garnishment, those should continue. You can only change those forward-looking payments through the divorce court which ordered them.

Chapter 13 only stops the collection of past-due support—which, again, Chapter 7 does not. (Past-due support is also sometimes called support arrears or support arrearage.) So the conditions we discuss now are ones you need to meet to stop the collection of past-due support.

Inform Your Collector of Support

Your bankruptcy lawyer’s Chapter 13 filing will immediately stop the collection of past-due support.  This does assume that either you or your lawyer informs your ex-spouse or the support enforcement agency about your Chapter 13 filing. The automatic stay applies at the moment of filing, but the creditor needs to know about it to be able to comply. Coordinate this with your lawyer.

Most support enforcement agencies understand this special power of Chapter 13 and will comply immediately. Although sometimes it may take some lawyerly persuasion.

Ex-spouses are more likely under the misimpression that your Chapter 13 filing has no effect whatsoever on your support obligation. He or she probably has never heard about this special benefit of Chapter 13 for past-due support. If so, your lawyer will likely contact him or her, or his or her lawyer if there is one, to inform him or her about the law.  

The Conditions to Avoid Collection of Past-Due Support

Once the automatic stay stops collection of past-due support, you’ll lose this benefit if you don’t maintain the following conditions:

1) keep current on your ongoing support

2) show in your Chapter 13 payment plan how you will pay off all the support arrearage during the 3–to-5-year life of the plan

3) consistently make your Chapter 13 plan payments so that you are in fact making continued progress towards paying off the past-due support

4) finish your Chapter 13 case successfully, which includes paying off the entire past-due support

Let’s look at these one by one.

1) Keep Current on Ongoing Support

Assuming you continue to owe ongoing support, you absolutely must keep paying it as long as you are obligated to. Otherwise you’d be going financially backwards instead of forwards. You’d be called on it by the support enforcement agency or your ex-spouse. The very likely result would be that you’d lose the automatic stay protection against collection of the past-due support.

Plus you need to be very strict on the timing. You have to pay the monthly payments precisely by the due dates. Otherwise there’s a good chance that your ex-spouse/support enforcement will inform the bankruptcy court and ask permission to resume collection.

In particular be fully aware of the first support payment due after your Chapter 13 case filing date. For example, if your case is filed on January 25 and your monthly support payments are due on the first of every month, you need to make that first after-filing support payment by February 1. Talk with your bankruptcy lawyer about the timing of your Chapter 13 filing so that you have the funds to pay that first support payment.            

2) Payment Plan Includes Planned Pay-off

Bankruptcy law requires you to pay off all your past-due support during the 3–to-5-year life of the plan. Your Chapter 13 lawyer will make the necessary calculations to show how you will so so. Your monthly plan payments will be based on what you can afford to pay to all of your creditors. Incorporated into those monthly payments is money that will go to pay off the past -due support. You and your lawyer have to show that these plan payments are enough to accomplish this.

Otherwise your ex-spouse/support enforcement agency can object to the plan. He/she/it could also ask for permission to resume collections because the plan would not catch up on the past-due support.

3) Make ALL Chapter 13 Plan Payments 

Your Chapter 13 plan not only has to pencil out correctly, but you also must pay the plan payments timely. Otherwise you’re not doing what you agreed to do in the court-approved plan.  Paying the plan payments on time shows that you are actually making continued progress towards paying off the past-due support.

If you got late on the plan payments, your Chapter 13 trustee could ask that your case get thrown out. (The trustee is the person you pay your plan payments to, and who then pays your creditors.) Or any creditor—including your ex-spouse/support enforcement agency—could do the same. Or could just ask for permission to resume collection.

4) Finish Your Chapter 13 Case

So if you have a good payment plan, and you make all the payments, you’ll eventually complete it successfully. (Your plan very likely has some other requirements and this assumes you comply with them as well.) When you complete your plan, you will have paid off the entire past-due support. So it’s really important that you get all the way to the end of your Chapter 13 case successfully.

 

Unpaid Child and Spousal Support in Chapter 13

January 13th, 2020 at 8:00 am

Chapter 13 DOES stop the collection of unpaid child or spousal support from your after-filing income and other assets. Chapter 7 does NOT.    

Last week we discussed situations in which Chapter 7 would help if you’re behind on child or spousal support payments. We made clear that Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” provides only limited help. Mostly it gives you relief from your other debts so that you can concentrate on catching up on support.  Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” is a much more powerful option when Chapter 7 is not enough.

The Main Benefits of Chapter 13 When Behind on Support

Chapter 13 takes much, much longer than Chapter 7, and is generally more expensive. But it provides some remarkable benefits compared to Chapter 7. These benefits can make the longer time and greater expense of Chapter 13 more than worthwhile. The main benefits of Chapter 13 are that:

1) Filing Chapter 13 immediately stops the collection of unpaid child or spousal support. Chapter 7 does not.

2) Chapter 13 gives you a relatively flexible and protected way to catch up on the support. With Chapter 7 you have to make your own payment arrangements, without any protection or much leverage.

Basically, have a serious conversation with your bankruptcy lawyer about Chapter 13 if you need these significant benefits.

How Does Chapter 13 Stop the Collection of Unpaid Support?

Chapter 7 is a very straightforward kind of bankruptcy. It focuses on a point in time: the moment your bankruptcy lawyer files your Chapter 7 case. Your case essentially imagines your financial life frozen in time at that moment, including your debts and assets, income and expenses, and such.

Chapter 13 also cares a lot about your financial life at the moment of filing. But it also takes a longer view—the next 3 to 5 years of your court-approved payment plan. In particular, Chapter 13 is designed to protect you during that period of time from your ongoing creditors.

Chapter 7 mostly just writes off (“discharges”) certain debts and does not discharge others. It leaves you on your own to deal with those debts you still owe, such as support.

In contrast, in Chapter 13 the protection from creditors—the “automatic stay”—can last the full 3-to-5 years.  Specifically regarding spousal and child support owed at the time of filing, the automatic stay protects your employment income earned after the filing. This means that as of your filing date your paycheck is protected from wage garnishment or other kinds of forced payment.

Why Doesn’t This Happen under Chapter 13 But Not 7?

Here’s the legal answer. (You can skip this section if you don’t need this level of detail.)

The pertinent federal bankruptcy statute states that the automatic stay does not stop the collection of support out of “property that is not property of the [bankruptcy] estate.” See Subsection 362(b)(2)(B) of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.  This means that a bankruptcy filing does stop the collection from property that is “property of the bankruptcy estate.”

In a Chapter 7 case the bankruptcy estate is essentially everything you own at the moment of filing the case. See Subsection 541 of the Bankruptcy Code on “Property of the estate” generally. This does not include what you earn and assets you acquire after that moment. Since those after-filing earnings and assets are not “property of the estate,” they can be targeted for support collection.

Chapter 13 is different for a simple reason: “the estate” does include after-filing earnings and assets. Only under Chapter 13 the estate includes “earnings from services performed by the debtor after the commencement of the case.” See Subsection 1306(a)(2).

This means that the automatic stay legally prevents your ex-spouse or support enforcement agency from continuing or starting to collect on your unpaid child or spousal support you’re your after-filing earnings the moment your bankruptcy lawyer files your Chapter 13 case. This is true even though a Chapter 7 filing would have absolutely no such effect.

This Chapter 13 Protection Comes with Important Conditions

We said that the automatic stay can last the entire 3-to-5-year period of your Chapter 13 payment plan. But especially when it comes to unpaid support that protection comes with some conditions.

Why are there conditions? Imagine the example of a vehicle loan. You want to keep the vehicle and prevent your lender from repossessing it. The automatic stay can protect your vehicle under Chapter 13 during the entire length of the case. But you have to meet some reasonable conditions like making payments and keeping the vehicle insured. If you don’t, the creditor can get the court to exclude the debt from being covered by the automatic stay. It can get permission to repossess your vehicle after all.

It’s similar with child and spousal support debt. Here the conditions are very time sensitive and are often enforced very strictly. Being able to stop support collection is a huge benefit of Chapter 13. It may even be a major reason for choosing this more time-consuming option. You don’t want to lose this benefit because you didn’t clearly understand and comply with the conditions.

Because of how important these conditions are, we’ll dedicate all of next week’s blog post to them.

 

Unpaid Child and Spousal Support in Chapter 7

January 6th, 2020 at 8:00 am

Chapter 7 does not stop the collection of child or spousal support, nor provide any procedure to pay the support. It may still help enough.  


If you are behind on child or spousal support payments Chapter 7 may or may not be a good solution.

Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” is the most common type of consumer bankruptcy case.  It is more likely to be a sensible solution if 1) the support isn’t being collected aggressively and 2) you don’t owe terribly much. Why? Because:

1) Filing Chapter 7 does not stop collection of unpaid child or spousal support. Chapter 13 can.

2) Chapter 7 does not give you a procedure for catching up on the support. Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” does so.

So why would you file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy if you were behind on support?

Filing Chapter 7 When Owing Support

Chapter 7 is usually the most straightforward type of bankruptcy. A case lasts only about 4 months from when your bankruptcy lawyer files it to when it’s completed. A Chapter 13 case involves a formal payment plan that almost always takes 3 to 5 years to finish.

As mentioned above Chapter 13 can stop the immediate collection of unpaid support, and give you time to catch up.

The much quicker Chapter 7 makes sense if you don’t need these kinds of help.

If you stopped paying the debts that Chapter 7 would discharge, could you quickly catch up on support? Would your ex-spouse be willing to accept monthly catch-up payments at an amount you could afford? Or if the debt is being collected by a support enforcement agency, would it accept such voluntary payments? Could you reliably make such payments, while presumably keeping current on the ongoing monthly support?

If you have a feasible way along these lines to catch up on your support obligation during and after your Chapter 7 case, then it may well be your best option.

Other Advantages and Disadvantages of Chapter 13

But you and your bankruptcy lawyer will discuss two other considerations revolving around your other debts.  Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 deal with debts quite differently.

The first consideration is about debts secured by your assets or other ones that you must pay. Secured debts include home mortgages, vehicle loans, and any others with a lien on anything you own. Debts you must pay—besides support—include recent income tax debts. Chapter 13 often handles these kinds of debts much better than Chapter 7. Without getting into the details here, Chapter 13 protects you while you pay such special debts as your budget allows. If you have such debts, how Chapter 13 helps with those may be reason enough to choose that option. Or this, along with the benefits it gives you with unpaid support, may swing you in that direction.

The second consideration is about the rest of your debts—those that are neither secured nor ones you must pay.  These are your “general unsecured” debts. Usually you can discharge (legally write off) all or most of such debts in either Chapter 7 or 13. In most Chapter 7 cases you pay nothing on your general unsecured debts. However, In a Chapter 13 case you often pay a portion of these debts. Whether and how much you pay on your general unsecured debts depend on lots of factors. The biggest factors are your income and expenses and the amount of your special debts (secured and otherwise) that you are paying in full. So you need to weigh the benefits of Chapter 13 regarding your unpaid support and other special debts against the likelihood that you would be paying something instead of nothing on your general unsecured debts.

What Happens to Your Unpaid Child/Spousal Support Debts in a No-Asset Chapter 7 Case?

A “no-asset” Chapter 7 case is one in which everything you own is covered by property exemptions. Exemptions usually allow you to keep certain dollar values of assets in various categories. Most Chapter 7 cases are “no assets” ones. If yours is, you’re able to keep everything (with the exception of collateral you decide to surrender).

In a no-asset Chapter 7 case your bankruptcy trustee does not get any of your assets to liquidate and pay to any of your creditors. (That’s why it’s called “no asset.”) Your bankruptcy lawyer will tell you if yours is expected to be.

Since the trustee doesn’t collect any money to pay your creditors anything, your support debts also receive nothing. So, a support debt gets no money directly from a no-asset Chapter 7 case. You have to deal with the support debt yourself (perhaps with the help of your lawyer), and be prepared to do so right away.

 

Priority Debts in a Chapter 13 Case

December 9th, 2019 at 8:00 am

Chapter 13 gives you some huge advantages over Chapter 7 for paying your priority debts. You’re protected while you pay what you can afford.


Priority Debts under No-Asset and Asset Chapter 7

Our last two blog posts described how Chapter 7 can sometimes be a sensible way of dealing with priority debts. (Those are ones you can’t “discharge”—legally write off, the most common being recent income taxes and child/spousal support.) Our blog post two weeks ago: a no-asset Chapter 7 case discharges all or most of your other debts. So then afterwards you can better afford to pay your priority ones. Last week: in an asset Chapter 7 case your bankruptcy trustee collects your unprotected asset(s). He or she then pays part or all of your priority debt out of the proceeds from selling those asset(s).

But Chapter 7 is not well-designed to deal with priority debts in many situations. Here are the main problems:

  • You get only brief protection, or none at all, from your priority creditor(s). With income taxes, the IRS/state can resume collections when your Chapter 7 case is over. That’s only 3-4 months after you and your bankruptcy lawyer file the case. With child/spousal support, there is no protection at all: collection continues even during your Chapter 7 case.
  • Because of this lack of legal protection, you have little or no leverage about the dollar amount of payments you pay on your priority debts. You are largely at the mercy of the IRS/state or the support enforcement agencies.
  • In an asset Chapter 7 case, you have no control over the trustee’s sale of your asset(s). Plus you have to pay a significant amount for the trustee’s costs and fee. That reduces what goes to your priority debt(s).

The Benefits of Chapter 13

In contrast, Chapter 13 is well-designed for you to deal favorably with your priority debts. Here are its main benefits and advantages.

1. Ongoing Protection, for Years

The protection from creditors called the automatic stay lasts not 3-4 months but rather 3-to-5 years in Chapter 13. You can lose this protection under Chapter 13, if you don’t follow the requirements. But usually this sustained protection is a very powerful tool. It gives you tremendous peace of mind. It forces otherwise very aggressive creditors like the IRS/state and support enforcement to cooperate. It gives you an incredible and practical second chance to do what you need to do. Instead of these tough creditors having the law and the leverage on their side, Chapter 13 puts you much more in charge.

2. Pay Monthly What You Can Afford to Pay

The practical leverage Chapter 13 gives you helps where it counts. It enables you to pay your priority debts under sensible and manageable payment terms. Priority debts are ones you have to pay regardless of bankruptcy. You mostly just wish that there was a way to do so that was doable. Chapter 13 fulfills that wish.

Here’s how it works You and your bankruptcy lawyer propose, and the bankruptcy judge approves a payment plan. (This approval comes after possible input from the Chapter 13 trustee and your creditors.) This payment plan is mostly based on how much you can actually afford to pay the pool of your creditors. You have to pay all your priority debts in full, but you have 3 to 5 years to do so.

You generally pay nothing on your other unsecured debts until you pay your priority debts in full. Sometimes you don’t pay anything on those “general unsecured” debts. At the end of your case whatever you haven’t paid is forever discharged. At that point you will have paid off your priority debts in full, and usually owe nothing to anybody.

3. Avoid Interest and Penalties

You can often avoid paying any interest or penalties on your priority debt(s) under Chapter 13.

For example, with recent income taxes, interest and penalties continue to accrue after you file your case.  But as long as there no prior-recorded tax lien, and you successfully finish your case, you don’t pay these additional interest and penalties. You only pay the initial priority tax debt.

Furthermore, in most situations the penalties that accrued before your Chapter 13 filing are not a priority debt. This portion of your tax due at the time of filing is treated as “general unsecured.” This means it’s treated just like your unsecured credit cards or medical bills. You only pay it to the extent you have money available after paying the priority debts, if at all.

This combination—no accruing interest and penalties, and no penalties treated as priority—can significantly reduce how much you must pay. The less you have to pay as priority means the less you pay in your Chapter 13 payment plan. The less you have to pay usually means you finish your plan quicker. It’s more likely to last closer to 3 years rather than 5 years. And if you have to pay less there’d be less pressure to pay more per month to get it done on time.

4. Pay Priority (and Secured) Debts Ahead of (and Instead of) Other Debts

If you have secured debts you have to pay—a vehicle loan or home mortgage arrearage, for example—you often can pay these ahead of the priority debts. Your priority debts generally just have to wait, as long as you are appropriately following the payment plan.

This flexibility, and being able to essentially force priority creditors to be this flexible, can be extremely beneficial to you. You not only get to pay your important priority debts ahead of your other unsecured debts. You often get to favor debts that are very important to you—for example, to save your home and/or vehicle—ahead of the priority debts. You do have to pay the priority debts in fully before you can finish your Chapter 13 case. But often you are allowed to fit those payments in only after paying your crucial secured debts.

 

Avoid a Support Lien through Bankruptcy

September 23rd, 2019 at 7:00 am

Chapter 7 is very limited in helping avoid a support lien. Chapter 13 is much more powerful, as long as you precisely meet some conditions.

 

Child and Spousal Support Liens

If you fall behind on child or spousal support payments, your ex-spouse can put a lien on your home.  (Most likely a lien can be imposed on your other property, but we’re focusing here on your real estate). The procedures vary state to state, but generally the lien is filed wherever property is recorded. Most often that’s at the local county recorder’s office.

The lien gives legal notice about the support claim against you.  The lien goes onto the title to your house. It gives your ex-spouse power to make you pay when you sell or refinance the house. Sometimes the lien can force the sale of the house in order to pay the support debt. So you want to avoid a support lien whenever possible. Or at least stop its enforcement after it’s been recorded.

Does Bankruptcy Stop the Filing of a Support Lien?

“[A]ny “act to create any lien” is generally stopped by a bankruptcy filing. See Section 362(a)(4) and (5) of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code about the “automatic stay.” The filing of a support lien is an “act to create… [a] lien.” So it appears that bankruptcy might stop a support lien.

However, there’s an exception under that automatic stay statute for the collection of support. Section 362(b)2)(B) of the Bankruptcy Code. If you file a Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” case your ex-spouse can continue collecting unpaid and ongoing support against you. This includes filing a support lien on your house, and enforcing that lien as described above. So a Chapter 7 case filing will not stop the filing of a support lien against you and your house. And it won’t stop the enforcement of that lien.

But there’s an exception to this exception. Under the right conditions filing a Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” case will stop a support lien. Unlike Chapter 7, Chapter 13 can stop a support lien from being filed and recorded. Chapter 13 can also stop a previously recorded lien from being enforced.

That’s because although Chapter 13 does not stop the collection of ongoing support, it does stop collection of past-due support. By its nature a support lien pertains to past-due support. So filing Chapter 13 can stop the filing and recording of a support lien.

The Conditions under Chapter 13

Above we said that Chapter 13 protects you and your home from a support lien under the right conditions. These conditions are arguably sensible. But you must meet them precisely or you’d very likely lose the special benefits of Chapter 13. Your ex-spouse could begin collecting for past-due support, including filing and enforcing a support lien.

The conditions you must meet include:

  • Staying current on your ongoing support payments
  • Arranging to catch up on your past-due support within your 3-to-5-year Chapter 13 payment plan
  • Staying current on your monthly Chapter 13 play payments (through which you’re catching up on your past-due support)

These conditions are arguably sensible because the idea is that you deserve a break on past-due support collection, as long as you are sticking with your legally approved commitment to pay off that past-due support debt. If you don’t keep your commitment, you lose the protection from collection.

Conclusion

If you’re behind on support payments, filing a Chapter 7 case will not stop your ex-spouse (or support enforcement agency) from recording a support lien against your house. Nor will Chapter 7 stop the enforcement of that support lien. But, if you’re not already behind, filing a Chapter 7 case may discharge (write-off) enough other debts so you can stay current on your support obligations.

Chapter 13 will stop the recording of a support lien for past-due support. It will also stop the enforcement of a previously recorded support lien against your house. But you must pay off the entire past due support obligation during your Chapter 13 payment plan. And you must do so precisely as agreed in that plan. Lastly, you must also keep current on any ongoing support obligation. If you do all these, you and your home will be protected from any support lien. Then at the end of your case you will be current on all support. Therefore your ex-spouse/support enforcement agency will no longer have any ability to impose a support lien.

 

Bankruptcy Does Not Write Off Child or Spousal Support Debts

March 11th, 2019 at 7:00 am

Child support and spousal support debts cannot get written off in bankruptcy. But is your specific divorce debt legally considered support? 

 

We’re in a series of blog posts about special kinds of debt which bankruptcy may not discharge—write off.  So far we’ve covered criminal fines and restitution, and income taxes.

Child and spousal support are more like criminal debts than like income taxes. Bankruptcy simply does not discharge a criminal debt, as long as it really is a criminal, not civil, obligation.  Bankruptcy does discharge income tax debts that meet certain conditions. Bankruptcy simply does not discharge child and spousal support, IF it fits bankruptcy’s definition of support.

No Discharge of Support

Bankruptcy law is clear that neither Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” nor Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” discharges support debts.

Section 523 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code lists the “Exceptions to discharge.” It includes that “A discharge under [Chapter 7] does not discharge an individual debtor from any debt—(5) for a domestic support obligation… “ Section 523(a)(5).

Chapter 13 says the same thing by incorporating this Chapter 7 exception to discharge in its own list of exceptions.  Section 1328(a)(2).

What’s Considered Support in Bankruptcy?

So if you owe a “domestic support obligation,” you’re not getting out of it through bankruptcy. But what does that phrase mean? What does it include and what might if not include?

The Bankruptcy Code’s definition of “domestic support obligation” is 221 words long, containing 10 clauses. Section 101(14) of the Bankruptcy Code.  It appears to be a broad definition, covering anything that would sensibly be considered child or spousal support. For example, the debt could be owed not just to your ex-spouse or your child, but also to a current spouse (through a separation agreement) or to the parent, legal guardian, or responsible relative of a child (based on a court order of support, even if not biologically your child). In other circumstances, to be considered support the debt does not necessarily need to be based on a court order. It can be based on a separation agreement or “a determination made in accordance with applicable nonbankruptcy law by a governmental unit.”

Yet there are some limitations. For example, support obligations are often assigned for collection to someone other than the ex-spouse or child. Usually it’s assigned to a state or county support enforcement agency—then it’s still considered support. However, a support obligation that was “assigned to a nongovernmental entity” for collection is no longer considered support in bankruptcy. That is, it isn’t “unless that obligation [was] assigned voluntarily by the spouse, former spouse, child of the debtor, or such child’s parent, legal guardian, or responsible relative for the purpose of collecting the debt.” Section 101(14)(D).

Obligations “In the Nature of” Child or Spousal Support

Sometimes a domestic relations court will call something support that really isn’t.  The bankruptcy court does not have to accept what your divorce court labeled as support.

The definition of a “domestic support obligation” (that is, support) includes the requirement that it really be “in the nature of alimony, maintenance, or support” on behalf of the pertinent person. Section 101(14)(B). If it’s not, the debt may be dischargeable.

“Support” That Might Be Dischargeable in Bankruptcy

For example, a debt that’s labeled as support might not really be “in the nature” of support if it’s actually a “property settlement” obligation that’s mislabeled as spousal or child support.

A property settlement obligation involves the resolution of a marital asset or debt. For example, you may owe money to your ex-spouse in return for receiving more than your share of marital assets. Or you may owe in return for your ex-spouse taking on what had been a joint debt. If a divorce judge requires you to pay “support” for what is really a property settlement, it may be discharged in bankruptcy.

The Difference This Can Make

Chapter 7 discharges neither support nor property settlement debts.  But Chapter 13 can discharge property settlement debts.

So if you have obligations called “support” but which are not “in the nature of support,” a Chapter 13 is worth looking into. Chapter 13 may especially be worthwhile if the debt at issue  is large.

Conclusion

If you owe a debt labeled as support by your divorce court, most of the time it will indeed be “in the nature of” support. But not always.

You can see that the interplay between divorce law and bankruptcy can get complicated. Talk with your bankruptcy lawyer about all of your divorce obligations to get all the relief you’re entitled to.

 

The Surprising Benefits: Stop Collection of Support Arrearage

June 18th, 2018 at 7:00 am

Ongoing child or spousal support is a very special type of debt in bankruptcy. So is support arrearage. Here’s how bankruptcy handles them. 

 

Most Debts

Filing bankruptcy stops—or “stays”—the collection of most debts. (See Section 362(a) of the U.S.  Bankruptcy Code about the “Automatic Stay.”) Then at the end of the bankruptcy case most debts are discharged—legally written off. (Sections 727 and 1328 of the Bankruptcy Code.) At that point the creditor is permanently forbidden to collect the debt.

Special Debts

However, filing bankruptcy doesn’t stop the collection of certain specific types of debts. And it only temporarily stops the collection of other types. These tend to be the types of debts that bankruptcy does not discharge.

Also, with some debts, whether collection is stopped depends on whether you file a Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” or instead a Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” case.

The special debts for which collection does not stop or may stop only temporarily include:

  • ongoing monthly child and spousal support
  • child and spousal support arrearage
  • recent income taxes
  • student loans
  • debts incurred through fraud

Again, these tend to be debts that do not get discharged in bankruptcy. However, bankruptcy does provide tools for resolving such special debts permanently. Today we’ll show how this works with ongoing child/spousal support and support arrearage. We’ll cover the rest in the next couple of weeks.

Ongoing Child and Spousal Support

We need to distinguish between ongoing child and spousal support and support arrearage.

Ongoing support is what the divorce court requires you to pay on a regular basis, usually monthly. It is a type of obligation treated with more respect than likely any other consumer debt in bankruptcy.

Accordingly, filing bankruptcy does not stop the collection of ongoing support. If you are paying support voluntarily you need to continue paying it.  If you are paying through a payroll deduction or a garnishment, it will continue.

This is true whether you file a Chapter 7 or a Chapter 13 case. Neither affects your continued obligation to pay ongoing support. The “automatic stay” does not apply. (Section 362(b)(2).) The discharge of debts does not apply. (Sections 523(a)(5), 1328(a)(2), and 101(14A).)

Child and Spousal Arrearage

As for support arrearage, neither Chapter 7 nor 13 can discharge this kind of debt either.

However, the automatic stay can stop collection of support arrearage, but only in a Chapter 13 case. Filing a Chapter 7 case will not stop support arrearage collection actions.

This ability to stop support arrearage collection through Chapter 13 can be extremely helpful. If you are behind on support payment, especially if you are significantly behind and its collection is financially hamstringing you, filing the more complicated Chapter 13 may well be worthwhile for this reason alone.

It’s extremely important to be aware that after filing your Chapter 13 case you can lose this automatic stay protection about collection of support arrearage. To prevent renewed collection, 1) you must keep current on your ongoing support, 2) your Chapter 13 plan must show how you will pay all the support arrearage during the case, and 3) you must consistently make your Chapter 13 plan payments so that you are in fact making continued progress towards paying off the support arrearage. If you don’t do any of these, your ex-spouse or support enforcement agency can quickly get the bankruptcy court to give permission to re-start collection of the support arrearage.

 

Chapter 13 Buys Time

July 21st, 2017 at 7:00 am

Chapter 13 is very different from Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy.” It buys you time to deal effectively with your special debts. 


The Main Overall Benefit of Chapter 13

The main benefit of Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” is the discharge—legal write off—of your debts.

You also get a discharge in Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts.” But a more immediate and often more important benefit is that you’re protected from collection action by creditors while you pay all or a portion of certain special debts. Those special debts are usually ones that Chapter 7 does not discharge, or does not help in a meaningful way.

Buying Time

Here are some examples of the kinds of debts that buying time under Chapter 13 helps you with.

  • Home Mortgage: If you’re behind on your first mortgage Chapter 13, can give you as much as 5 years to catch up. An ongoing foreclosure is stopped. Future ones can be prevented. This buying of time gives you a much more practical way to save your home. And a much more peaceful one.
  • Recent Income Tax Debts: Taxes that don’t qualify for discharge (usually because they are too recent) are subject to immediate collection as soon as a Chapter 7 is completed. Interest and penalties continue to accrue. In contrast, under Chapter 13 the tax creditors must stop collections throughout the 3 to 5-year payment plan. And generally interest and penalties both stop accruing.
  • Child or Spousal Support: Chapter 7 does not buy you ANY time if you’re behind on support. Chapter 13 stops collection on the arrearage (although ongoing monthly support can continue being collected). You then have time to catch on the support over time, based on what you can afford.
  • Vehicle Loans: If you’re behind on your car or truck, in Chapter 7 you have to catch up in a matter of weeks. Chapter 13 gives you years. And if the debt is more than the value of the vehicle, through “cramdown” you would probably not need to catch up at all. Plus the monthly payment can often be reduced. The term of payments may be stretch out over a longer period of time. These all buy you time. The end result is that you can keep the vehicle less expensively and with less worry.
  • Unpaid Property Taxes: If you’ve fallen behind, just like a mortgage you get years to catch up. And you don’t have to worry about a property tax foreclosure in the meantime. Also, your mortgage lender can’t use your being behind on property taxes as a reason to foreclose on the mortgage.
  • Student Loans: Generally you can stop paying on your student loan during your Chapter 13 case. This is especially beneficial if you do not currently qualify for an “undue hardship” discharge but expect to more likely do so later in your case. Ask your bankruptcy lawyer about how the law is enforced because it varies by region.

 

Power over Your Secured Debts through Chapter 13

June 27th, 2016 at 7:00 am

Chapter 7 strengthens your hand with your secured debts. But Chapter 13 can be much stronger.  Starting with a more potent “automatic stay.”

 

The last blog post explained how filing a Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” can:

1) temporarily or permanently stop your secured creditors from taking your property in which they have a lien;

2) prevent a creditor with an unsecured debt from turning it into a secured one;

3) help you keep the property which has a creditor’s lien; and

4) if you want, enable you to surrender the collateral to the creditor without owing anything more on the debt thereafter. 

However, another legal option, the Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts,” can often give you a whole lot stronger version of these four benefits than does a Chapter 7 case. You may not always need more help. But in many situations when you do, Chapter 13 can work wonders.

Because there are so many ways that Chapter 13 helps, we’ll cover these four benefits in four blog posts, starting with the first one today.

Benefit # 1: Stopping Secured Creditors from Taking Your Property

In a Chapter 7 case the “automatic stay” stops your secured creditors from taking any action against your property in which they have a lien. This “stay” is imposed immediately as of the moment that your case is filed. This happens just as quickly under Chapter 13. (See Section 362 of the Bankruptcy Code.)

But the “automatic stay” can be tremendously stronger under Chapter 13 for three reasons. It:

1.  lasts much, much longer,

2. can apply also to protect co-signer on consumer debts, and

3. provides a protected environment to allow the other Chapter 13 benefits to work.

Lasts Much, Much Longer

Chapter 7’s “automatic stay” generally lasts only about 3 or 4 months as it protects you and your property from the secured (and other) creditors. Sometimes the period of protection is even shorter. If a secured creditor is aggressive about trying to get back its collateral, that creditor may ask the bankruptcy court for “relief from stay” to start or resume chasing the collateral. Either way, Chapter 7’s “automatic stay” only pauses the action against you and the property.

In contrast, a Chapter 13 case usually lasts 3 to 5 years. The protection of the “automatic stay” over your property can last that entire time.

Just as in Chapter 7, during a Chapter 13 case a creditor can ask for “relief from stay”—permission to pursue your property. But practically speaking, whether or not a creditor asks for “relief from stay” in the first place largely depends on how you and your bankruptcy lawyer treat that creditor in your Chapter 13 payment plan. There are some relatively complicated laws about how secured debts can be treated. You can avoid problems by not giving your secured creditors legal grounds to complain.

Then once the Chapter 13 plan is approved by the court, whether a creditor complains and asks for “relief from stay” after that depends on how well you fulfill the terms of that plan as it affects that creditor.

Even if the plan is reasonable and even if you are making payments on it as approved, the creditor may still ask for “relief from stay” just to force some concessions from you. The creditor may want larger monthly payments to pay off a debt faster, or conditions to induce you to make the payments on time.

This kind of legal maneuvering can complicate the “automatic stay”protection. But it does not change the reality that under Chapter 13 your secured property is usually protected for much longer, giving you a lot more flexibility in how you handle your secured debts.

The “Co-Debtor Stay”

A Chapter 7 case does nothing to stop a creditor from pursuing a co-signer or the co-signer’s collateral. But Chapter 13 does provide this benefit. (See Section 1301.)

There are conditions and limitations to this special “stay.” But from the start the co-debtor stay immediately protects the co-signer and his or her property. That gives you a chance to get your Chapter 13 plan started and see whether and how the creditor responds.

Similar to the usual “automatic stay,” a creditor can ask for “relief from the co-debtor stay” to get court permission to go after the co-signer or his or her collateral. If the creditor does not make this request, your co-signer is protected. Indeed, only if the bankruptcy court says otherwise, your co-signer is protected.

If and when the co-signed creditor makes this request of the court, you may need to pay this creditor more to prevent it from being allowed to go after your co-signer.  Under some circumstances you may be able to pay more to this creditor simply by paying less to your other creditors, while paying no more in total.

Again, it depends on the facts of your case. But the reality is that the “co-debtor stay” gives you the power to protect your co-signers immediately and potentially for the long run, where Chapter 7 would provide no help at all.

Enables the Other Chapter 13 Benefits to Work

Chapter 13 gives you many strong powers for dealing with secured creditors. Many of those only work because of the long and continuous protection provided by the “automatic stay.”

For example, unlike Chapter 7 which provides no legal mechanism for catching up on unpaid mortgage payments, Chapter 13 effectively gives you the entire length of the 3-to-5-year case to catch up. But this only works because throughout this time the mortgage holder is stopped from foreclosing by the ongoing “automatic stay.”

There are many other Chapter 13 benefits that can only be implemented with an ongoing “automatic stay” giving you the necessary protected time.  Just a few examples of these other benefits are:

  • the “stripping” of a second mortgage to stop the monthly payments on that mortgage and reduce the amount of debt against the home
  • “cramdown” of a vehicle loan to reduce payment amounts and the total to be paid
  • catching up on child or spousal support payments while collection efforts are on hold
  • paying off recent unpaid income taxes without the IRS/state being able to pursue you in the meantime
  • catching up on unpaid real property taxes on a home, without your mortgage holder being able to foreclose on that basis in the meantime

 

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