How Does It Affect My Alimony if My Ex Files for Bankruptcy?

For someone who relies on alimony payments from an ex to make ends meet, learning that the ex either has or is about to file bankruptcy can obviously raise questions and increase stress. Alimony is often a contentious issue between divorced spouses (and those preparing for divorce), so our experienced divorce lawyers in Nashville understand that any change that could affect it can be troubling. Here’s what you need to know.

Will I Still Be Able to Get Alimony if My Ex Goes Bankrupt?

The short answer is yes; you should still be able to receive alimony even if your ex goes through the bankruptcy process. That’s because alimony is considered nondischargeable in bankruptcy court, which means it’s a debt that the bankruptcy court cannot remove from the debtor. Another term used for discharging debt is forgiving debt.

The reason is that alimony is usually ordered in cases where the person receiving it needs it to support themselves. However, that doesn’t always stop exes who are angry about paying alimony from trying to use bankruptcy as an excuse to stop paying alimony. Legally, they’re not likely to succeed.

Do I Have Any Legal Recourse if My Ex Stops Paying Alimony?

If your ex is under the mistaken idea that they can file for bankruptcy and stop paying alimony, then there is legal action you can take. Ideally, it would be best if you worked with a Nashville family law attorney experienced with alimony and divorce court. They can develop the case to take to court, where they’ll ask the judge to enforce the alimony agreement. The court will then hold a hearing to learn why your ex has stopped paying the court-ordered alimony. If the judge finds your ex violates the alimony agreement, they could do one or more of the following.

  • The ex could be held in contempt of court, with the judge ordering the ex to pay you and possibly adding fines to the amount due.
  • The judge could order a portion of the ex’s income to be withheld and sent directly to you. This tactic has the advantage of allowing you to receive alimony without having to deal directly with your ex.
  • The judge could order a writ of execution. That’s an order that causes the ex’s property to be seized to pay debts. For alimony, this usually involves seizing the ex’s financial assets, such as bank accounts or other assets, to give them to you.

Does it Matter if My Ex is Filing for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy?

Divorce obligations, including alimony, are not eligible for discharge under either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy. That’s a ruling from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, not only Tennessee courts. That means that if your ex moved out of Tennessee, they’re still obligated by the same regulations.

What Is an Automatic Stay in Bankruptcy?

Once someone files for bankruptcy, the bankruptcy court issues an automatic stay. That means creditors can no longer try to collect most debts. However, the automatic stay does not apply to things like alimony or child support payments. If your ex tries to claim they no longer need to pay your alimony because they’re in the automatic stay period, seek legal help.

How Could My Ex’s Bankruptcy Affect My Alimony Payments?

Suppose your ex is found genuinely struggling financially and eligible for filing bankruptcy. In that case, it’s possible that the amount of alimony could be renegotiated and reduced, depending on the financial situation of the person receiving it. Suppose something catastrophic has happened, such as a long stretch of unemployment or illness or injury that kept your ex out of the workforce for an extended time. In that case, the courts will balance the inability of your ex to pay with your need for support.

Is There Ever a Situation Where Bankruptcy Causes Alimony Payments to Stop?

There are two situations that the bankruptcy courts have identified when alimony could be discharged in bankruptcy.

The first is something that’s often called alimony, but legally, it really isn’t. One example happens when the divorce specified that one spouse would pay down marital debt, which the other spouse would not have to pay and would consider that alimony instead. Because it’s not really alimony, the bankruptcy court could discharge the marital debt without ordering the ex to start paying legitimate alimony. There are many variations to this, so contact a family law attorney if you’re unsure of your situation.

The other involves a third-party arrangement. Sometimes the person receiving the alimony has a reason to assign it to a third party, who then owns the obligation (or perhaps it would be better to call it the debt). If the ex files for bankruptcy in this case, the court can discharge the alimony because it’s going to a third party, not the original recipient.

What Should I Do if I Learn My Ex Is Filing for Bankruptcy?

Call me at 615-492-2085 to request a no-obligation case evaluation as soon as possible. Our knowledgeable Nashville alimony attorney will work with you to ensure your rights aren’t ignored or forgotten in the bankruptcy process and help protect that source of income for you. I have experience and knowledge of how alimony is handled in the bankruptcy process, and I want to help you get the proper outcomes. These cases can be highly complex and benefit from having professional representation.