Recently on our legal forum a user asked, “I have been paying child support for my stepson for 10 years, even after his mother and I got divorced. I am not sure what happened to the father, but they have never been able to locate him. Now I have lost my job, and I am considering filing for bankruptcy protection. I am wondering if I have to keep paying child support or if I can stop for a while just until I can get back on my feet?”
Overview of child support and step parenting
With the death of the “traditional family” and the rise of the divorce rate over the last 40 years states, and by extension the courts, have become creative in ensuring that kids are cared for by parents and do not become wards of the state.
In fact, while it’s most common for biological parents to have the responsibility to care for their own children, there are instances when stepparents are required to step in and provide both financial and emotional support.
You mentioned you married a woman who had a child by another man. You did not say specifically but it sounds like you lived with the pair for an extended period of time and developed a strong attachment to the child. It also sounds like you were an honorable man and stepped up and provided emotional, physical and financial support when needed.
Now you have gotten a divorce and through a divorce agreement or some other type of legal contract you have agreed to continue your financial support of the child. So, let’s look at your question about what will happen if you decide to file for bankruptcy protection.
Stepparent and filing bankruptcy
Filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy is a legal means to discharge certain unsecured debts. Filing Chapter 13 bankruptcy is a legal means to restructure debts and repay them over a 3 or 5 year period.
Although you did not specifically mention what types of debts you currently have, Chapter 7 bankruptcy will discharge unsecured personal loans, credit card debt, and medical debt. Chapter 7, however, will not discharge your responsibility to pay child support nor will it discharge child support payments which might be in arrears.
So, what does this mean for you? The good news is that if you qualify for Chapter 7 and you have dischargeable unsecured debts you might have enough funds left over each month to make your child support payments. You might also be able to restructure any support debt you have in arrears by filing Chapter 13 bankruptcy. The bad news is that your support obligation will remain even after the bankruptcy filing.
What options does a stepparent have to help with child support obligations?
Does this mean there’s nothing you can do? No, you do have some options. Although you will not be able to stop making child support payments or have your child support discharged, you can request a child support modification. Modifications are often granted for a variety of reasons, including lost employment, and can reduce your monthly child support obligation.
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