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Are alimony debt and payments dischargeable in bankruptcy?

Alimony is when one spouse pays money to another to help support that spouse after a divorce. Usually this type of support is ordered by the divorce court when one spouse did not work or worked very little and the other spouse made the bulk of the household income. Usually, alimony is paid for a set period of time in order for the “stay at home” spouse to have time to get employment.

When a spouse files for bankruptcy the court will issue an automatic stay on any type of collection efforts by creditors. However, this does not apply to domestic support claims such as the other spouse filing for divorce, alimony or child support. Past due alimony debt and ongoing, future alimony payments are not dischargeable in bankruptcy, as per Section 523(a)(5) of the Federal Bankruptcy Code.

Although alimony debt and payments cannot be discharged or wiped clean in a bankruptcy, the amount paid can be changed under certain scenarios. A bankruptcy judge may change the amount paid by the supporting spouse when the supported spouse, for whatever reason, is no longer responsible for the payment of the debts in the marriage. If the supporting spouse has to take on those debts, then the judge may lower the payments. Another scenario is when, due to the bankruptcy, the supporting spouse lacks the ability to pay the alimony given their current economic situation.

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