Kentucky Bankruptcy Law

Counsel with Care

Debt and Divorce

In Kentucky marital law there is no presumption that debt incurred by one spouse is marital debt and the recent Supreme Court of Kentucky opinion in Rice v Rice, 2009-SC-000730-DG, March 24, 2011 (to be published) reaffirms that doctrine. Sometimes you can tell when a court gets hacked off, and some of that comes through in this opinion written by Justice Noble. One clue as to the court being upset is when they use the word “egregious” and it appears in this opinion.

The husband and wife had been married for 42 years. The wife, Carolyn, worked at an $8.00 an hour job. The husband, Jackie, allowed their adult son to accumulate around $65,000.00 debt by letting him use credit cards and co-signing for loans. This went on for about four (4) years before Carolyn got wind of her husband allowing this mountain of debt to arise and when she confronted Jackie about it, he just changed the mailing address for the bills so she would not find them. Are you starting to see what lead to the divorce?

Anyway, the trial court that granted the divorce assigned each of the parties one half (1/2) of this debt even though Carolyn had not authorized it. The Court of Appeals let that decision stand, but the Supreme Court would not tolerate it. They held that a debt incurred or authorized by one spouse and which the other spouse neither authorized nor received a benefit from is not marital debt.

The reason it was important that Carolyn take her fight to the Supreme Court of Kentucky instead of filing bankruptcy is that the assignment of debt may have been deemed a “domestic support obligation” by the bankruptcy court. So, even though her legal obligation to the creditors may have been extinguished in bankruptcy, she might have remained on the hook to Jackie for around $32,500.00 because domestic support obligations are not discharged.

May 21, 2011 Posted by | Bankruptcy, dissipation of assets, Divorce, Family Law, Planning | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Discharge of Debt and Domestic Support Obligations

The changes in the bankruptcy code from the 2005 BACPA essentially eradicated a debtor’s ability to discharge their domestic support obligations. So, if you are divorced or pay child support, it is important to understand what you can do regarding debts arising from the divorce or child support. A recent decision by Judge Scott, Judge for the Eastern Distric of Kentucky Bankruptcy Court, offers a concise explanation of how domestic support obligations arise and how they are impacted by the automatic stay from collection activity of 11 U.S.C. Section 362.

Domestic support obligations (I’ll call these “DSO”s here on out) are defined liberally by the bankruptcy code at 11 U.S.C. Section 101(14A). When a DSO arises because it is “in the nature of” maintenance, alimony or child support, then the automatic stay of Section 362 does not prevent collection actions from property that is NOT part of the estate. The clearest example of this is when the divorce court ordered one party to pay his or her ex-spouse monthly payments (either alimony payments or child support) and the receiving party can still expect to receive those monthly payments from the debtor’s ongoing wages, which are not part of the estate of a Chapter 7. The receiving spouse need do nothing in the bankruptcy court to take action to enforce this order of support.

The recent decision referenced above gives a great example of a very different way that a DSO can arise. In that case, the debtor was ordered to maintain payments on the marital residence until it sold. However, he did not do so (perhaps he could not or maybe he thought he was pulling one over on his ex-wife, I have no idea) and the marital residence foreclosed. There was a deficiency of around $45,500 from the foreclosure as compared to the assessed value of the house. Presumably, the full debt on the house was covered by the sale proceeds and the $45,500 represented equity. So, the debtor had been ordered by the divorce court judge to pay 1/2 of that to his ex-wife. The debtor argued that since the house did sell and there was no net gain from said sale, that he did not owe his ex-wife one cent. Neither the divorce judge nor Judge Scott bought this argument.

The debtor went into bankruptcy with a $22,750 plus DSO as a result of the foreclosure on the marital residence. Since it was not in the nature of alimony, maintenance or child support, the automatic stay did prevent the ex-wife from pursuing collection activity, so she moved the court to lift the stay. She attempted to do so, but failed to sufficiently explain to the bankruptcy court the reason why she should be allowed to have the stay lifted.

The end result is that the debtor clearly has to repay his ex-wife the $22,750 that he theoretically could have realized if he had kept current on payments and sold the house on the open market. However, since the ex-wife did not fully carry her burden of proof, she is going to have to wait until the bankruptcy is closed to take action to collect this debt.

Several lessons come from this case. First, you really should consult with an attorney familiar with both family law and banruptcy law if you are going to allow property that was subject to a decree or court order in a divorce be repossessed or foreclosed upon. The long term cost to you may be far more than you want to incur. Second, remember that bankruptcy does not take care of every sort of debt and you need to recognize what debts will remain. This could help you decide between pursuing a work-out outside of bankruptcy, filing a Chapter 7, or filing a Chapter 13. Third, if you are owed a DSO, be sure to adequately provide evidence to the bankruptcy court of the “good cause” (the reason why you are harmed) required by 11 U.S.C. Section 362(d)(1) for the automatice stay to be lifted.

March 21, 2011 Posted by | Bankruptcy, Chapter 7, child support, Divorce, Family Law, Foreclosure, Planning, Pre-filing planning, Property (exempt | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Voluntary Underemployment & Child Support (or Roy’s Very Bad Day)

In a prior post discussing dischargeability of a Dodge Durango Debt from a Divorce, I said that in the case, Howard v Howard, 2008-CA-001059-MR (June 12, 2009)(to be published) the Kentucky Court of Appeals addressed two important domestic support obligation issues. This post reveals that second issue.

As we saw before, Roy lost his argument that the deficiency judgment debt on his Dodge Durango was discharged through bankruptcy. As to his ex-wife Sondra, he remained responsible for the payments because it was agreed to and decreed through the divorce. That made it non-dischargeable as a domestic support obligation and so Sondra could pursue payment through contempt proceedings.

Now, Roy also had left a nice paying job as a federal prison guard claiming a medical reason. Apparently it was not a very good medical reason (or he failed to prove it up) because the trial court determined that his new employment at half his former wages was voluntary. Because it was deemed a voluntary reduction in pay, Roy was ordered to keep paying the same child support as before while earning half the amount of wages as before. He wouldn’t even be able to put gas in the tank of a Durango now.

In order to modify child support, the movant must show “a material change in circumstances that is substantial and continuing.” KRS 403.213. Judges have considerable discretion to decide whether a job change resulting in much less income is voluntary or involuntary. If it is voluntary then that person does not get a break on the child support.

But what if Roy really had a medical problem and could not longer work at the federal prison? Well, if his medical condition was legitimate, and it may have been, then there should have been a trail of documentation that was produced as evidence to the court. If Roy had that evidence, then he needed to pull it together and convince the judge. This is where it actually saves money in the long run to invest in having a good attorney. A good attorney would have either told Roy he was wasting his time because an ingrown toe-nail won’t convice the court, or she would have made sure the evidence was there.

Unfortunately, losing on the Durango Debt and losing on the reduction of child support did not end his very bad day. Roy also had to pay $500.00 towards Sondra’s legal fees. I mean no offense to any of my colleagues that may have represented Roy, and if Roy reads this I am sorry if it seems I am rubbing salt in the wounds, but had he invested in legal counsel knowledgeable in bankruptcy and family law, he could have saved a heap of money in the long run.

June 16, 2009 Posted by | attorney fees, Bankruptcy, child support, Divorce | , , , , , , | Leave a comment