Kentucky Bankruptcy Law

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Concurrent Jurisdiction of State and Bankruptcy Courts

There is a nice little Kentucky Supreme Court opinion called Howard v Howard, 336 S.W.3d 433 (Ky. 2011) every Kentucky family lawyer and consumer bankruptcy lawyer should read. The first part of the opinion addresses child support and contempt sanctions, which to be sure are fun things to know about, but the meat of the opinion spells out the concurrent jurisdiction of Kentucky Courts with the Federal Bankruptcy Courts and how that effects discharge of certain kinds of debt.

Under 28 U.S.C. Sect. 1334(b), a state court has the same and concurrent jurisdiction as a bankruptcy court to make a determination as to whether a particular debt is discharged by a bankruptcy. In the Howard case, the ex-husband had agreed to be responsible for certain debts the ex-wife had also co-signed. However, he went into a Chapter 7 and received a discharge of that debt. Even though the ex-wife had notice of the bankruptcy and did NOT file any objection in the Chapter 7, she was still able to go to the Kentucky Circuit Court where the divorce had occurred and get a ruling that ex-husband still owed the obligation to her.

You see, the divorce decree created an obligation between the ex-husband and ex-wife even though a third party was the direct creditor. This obligation was found to be an 11 U.S.C. Sect. 523(a)(15) obligation as a result of a divorce. Therefore, by operation of that law, that obligation to the ex-wife was not touched by the bankruptcy. When the original creditor came back to collect from the ex-wife, she was able to pursue contempt against the ex-husband and win. This saved ex-wife from having to pay for a lawyer in the bankruptcy in addition to paying for a lawyer in the Circuit Court case.

February 7, 2015 Posted by | attorney fees, Bankruptcy, Chapter 7, child support, Civil Procedure | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Domestic Support Obligations: child support, alimony, and equitable distributions

There are two different sorts of domestic support obligations defined in the bankruptcy code.  The first kind of domestic support obligation encompasses things such as child support payments and alimony (called maintenance in Kentucky).  The second sort comes from an equitable distribution of property subsequent to a divorce. The term “domestic support obligation” first appears in 11 USC Sect. 101(14A), but these two different kinds of domestic support obligations only become apparent when one looks at how they are treated in terms of discharge of debt.

At first glance at 11 USC 523(a)(5) & (15) it looks like these two types of domestic support obligations are treated the same. That is to say, neither child support and alimony type obligations nor equitable distribution of property appear to be discharged in bankruptcy. This is true when it comes to Chapter 7 liquidation type bankruptcy. However, it is a different story in Chapter 13, but one has to look at the bankruptcy code carefully to discern this difference.

So, now we have to turn to 11 USC Sect 1328(a)(2) to see the rest of the story. This oddly written statute basically says that all debts except for certain ones get discharged once all the plan payments are made. The specific provision mentioned includes 11 USC Sect 523(a)(5) as an exception that does NOT get discharged. However, that provision conspicuously leaves our 11 USC Sect. 523(a)(15). This latter provision, 523(a)(15) pertains to equitable distribution of assets subsequent to a divorce.

Bottom line: if you agree to let your soon to be ex-spouse pay you later for your share of equity in the marital residence, then you may end up losing out if he or she ends up in a Chapter 13. That chunk of equity may well end up being treated as a general unsecured debt receiving only pennies on the dollar. However, child support and alimony (maintenance) will not be discharged in a Chapter 7 or a Chapter 13.

July 16, 2012 Posted by | Bankruptcy, Chapter 13, Chapter 7, child support, Divorce, Family Law, Marital Assets, Pre-filing planning | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Domestic Support Obligations: child support, alimony, and equitable distributions

There are two different sorts of domestic support obligations defined in the bankruptcy code.  The first kind of domestic support obligation encompasses things such as child support payments and alimony (called maintenance in Kentucky).  The second sort comes from an equitable distribution of property subsequent to a divorce. The term “domestic support obligation” first appears in 11 USC Sect. 101(14A), but these two different kinds of domestic support obligations only become apparent when one looks at how they are treated in terms of discharge of debt.

At first glance at 11 USC 523(a)(5) & (15) it looks like these two types of domestic support obligations are treated the same. That is to say, neither child support and alimony type obligations nor equitable distribution of property appear to be discharged in bankruptcy. This is true when it comes to Chapter 7 liquidation type bankruptcy. However, it is a different story in Chapter 13, but one has to look at the bankruptcy code carefully to discern this difference.

So, now we have to turn to 11 USC Sect 1328(a)(2) to see the rest of the story. This oddly written statute basically says that all debts except for certain ones get discharged once all the plan payments are made. The specific provision mentioned includes 11 USC Sect 523(a)(5) as an exception that does NOT get discharged. However, that provision conspicuously leaves our 11 USC Sect. 523(a)(15). This latter provision, 523(a)(15) pertains to equitable distribution of assets subsequent to a divorce.  

Bottom line: if you agree to let you soon to be ex-spouse pay you later for your share of equity in the marital residence, then you may end up loosing out if he or she ends up in a Chapter 13. That chunk of equity may well end up being treated as a general unsecured debt receiving only pennies on the dollar. However, child support and alimony (maintenance) will not be discharged in a Chapter 7 or a Chapter 13.

February 1, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

The case of mismatched law: alimony and bankruptcy

Alimony, or maintenance as it is called here in Kentucky, is an interesting topic because how state law defines and treats alimony does not necessary mesh with the bankruptcy code. In this post, I am talking about when a non-debtor ex-spouse owes the person filing bankruptcy (the debtor) alimony or maintenance (the two terms are interchangeable and I’ll stick with alimony since it is the most recognized). The scenario is a divorced debtor filing a bankruptcy (it can be either a chapter 7 or a chapter 13) because their ex has failed to pay the alimony as ordered as is now in a world of hurt. So, the debtor has to list the alimony owed to him or her because it comes into the bankruptcy estate through 11 USC Sect. 541. There is even a “clawback” provision in 11 USC 541(a)(5)(C) that reaches 180 days beyond the filing date of the petition in cases where a divorce has not yet been finalized.

To be sure, 11 USC Sect. 522(d)(10)(D) appears to exempt alimony (“the right to receive”) so that the debtor gets to hold on to it. However, appearances can be deceiving because the bankruptcy courts do not have to accept the determination of the parties or the state court in deciding if a certain asset is alimony. The debtor may have a court order that calls what the ex owes them alimony and he or she may believe it is alimony, but the bankruptcy court can decide differently. If the bankruptcy court deems the awarded monies to actually be a property settlement, then it is not exempt beyond any available “wild card” exemption from 11 USC 522(d)(5).

The bankruptcy court makes its determination as to whether or not an award of alimony is truly alimony or if it is actually a property settlement mechanism by looking at what actually transpired. There are different aspects that the court may focus on and so it is more likely to be alimony if: 1) it ends at death or remarriage, 2) it can be modified based on need, 3) the debtor did not have property or resources to meet their basic needs, 4) it is subject to the tax treatment for alimony in the tax code (taxable to recipient; deductible by payor), and 5) the payments go directly to the debtor. If, on the other hand, the award of monies was in lieu of other property or debt, then it may not be deemed alimony. These are not necessarily exclusive factors, but they give an idea of how the courts analyze an alimony claim of exemption. The bottom line is that the court wants to be sure that the monies are actually for the support and sustenance of the recipient. This is consistent with the other items in Sect. 522(d)(10)(D) because each is a replacement for wages.

Be careful entering into a bankruptcy if you are the recipient of alimony or maintenance. When you interview your prospective attorney, but sure they understand the nuance behind the stated words of the law. They need to be able to analyze how likely the court is to see the award as alimony. If the award is sizable, then you can expect to have an objection to the exemption be filed by the trustee. If you win by convincing the court that it is indeed alimony, you will still have to show that all of it is “reasonably necessary” to live on – and that does not mean living in style or luxury.

June 30, 2011 Posted by | Bankruptcy, Chapter 13, Chapter 7, Divorce, Exemptions, Family Law, Planning, Pre-filing planning, Property (exempt | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hanging out at the intersection of divorce and business

The Supreme Court of Kentucky recently issues it decision in Medical Vision Group, PSC v Philpot, 2008-SC-000017-MR (Aug. 21, 2008)(to be published) which technically creates no case law, but is instructional regardless. The appeal was dismissed because at the time it came before the Supreme Court, the receivership issue was resolved and so the matter was moot.

The short version is that the Judge Philpot, Fayette Family Court Judge, put two companies under receivership because the sole owner of the companies, Dr. Dudee, abandoned the businesses. Dr. Dudee had refused to pay court ordered maintenance and other property distribution from his divorce and so he was jailed for contempt. While in jail, he refused to participate in work release, so his businesses were not generating revenue. Bottom line, Dr. Dudee refused to honor his obligations ordered in the divorce from his wife. Whether he was a conscientious objector or a had just been hijacked by a really bad attitude, I will let the public decide based on the facts in the case should you choose to read it.

The Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the trial court by asserting that the judge did the right thing because the two companies were essentially “alter egos” of Dr. Dudee. However, since the trial court judge entered no findings of fact or conclusions of law in his decision regarding “alter ego” doctrine that would allow for the piercing of the corporate veil, the Supreme Court said that could not be the basis of upholding Judge Philpot’s decision. They did opine, though, that Judge Philpot was well within his discretion to enjoin the two companies in the divorce action pursuant to KRS 403.150(6) as proper parties to allow the court to exercise its judicial authority. The Court went on to point out that no third party was harmed by enjoining the businesses because Dr. Dudee was the sole owner. They also elaborated on the obligations that Dr. Dudee was refusing to honor and then added that he initially agreed to the receiver while stating he did not believe the court had jurisdiction to do so (kind of a half-hearted objection meant to move things along, but hoping to preserve an appeal – not terribly effective).

A few lessons emerge. First, if you want to preserve an appeal, be clear on the record rather than ambivalent. Second, if you are the sole owner of a company, it is ineffective to hide or divert assets into that company to keep them out of a divorce situation. Third, other parties can be brought into an action for a dissolution of marriage action, including a company that one of the parties has ownership interest in even if they are not the only owner. Lastly, no one emerges from a divorce unscathed emotionally, spiritually, or financially, but the extent of the injury can be mitigated or worsened by the attitude one adopts in the proceedings.

September 3, 2008 Posted by | Civil Procedure, Divorce, Family Law, property allocation | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment