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Can I use bankruptcy to get out of child support payments?

For single parents in Pennsylvania, child support can be a lifesaver. The extra income may be the difference between a processed dinner or a fresh one — or even the difference between getting health care or not. But when the paying parent finds themselves unable to fulfill their child support responsibilities, they may try to file bankruptcy and avoid the payments. Unfortunately for them, child support is exempt from bankruptcy debt forgiveness in Pennsylvania.

If you are that parent who is considering filing for bankruptcy, there are a few things to understand. First of all, if you have a backlog of unpaid child support, bankruptcy does not touch that debt. Anything you owe “in the nature of support” for the child takes first priority in being paid, whether you have having debt cleared by chapter 7 or formulating a repayment plan with chapter 13. For example, your own medical bills may be forgiven by bankruptcy, but those of your child will not. 

Second, bankruptcy in no way relieves your obligation to make future child support payments. If you do stop making payments, your wages may be garnished and other action may be taken to recover that debt. There is hope, however. The child support agreement may be modified if it is becoming difficult to make payments. Nevertheless, any unpaid debt still must be paid in full, even after a modification.

Child support is one of the most common bankruptcy exemptions, yet it is so often overlooked. If you are considering filing for bankruptcy, it may be beneficial to speak with an attorney to make sure these exemptions do not surprise you in court.  

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