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Divorce is expensive, and that can leave many divorced parents struggling to meet their bills -- including their child support obligations. If your ex-spouse is behind on support (and other bills), you may be concerned about what will happen if they file for bankruptcy protection.

Relax. Generally speaking, child support obligations don't disappear when a parent files for bankruptcy. Unlike credit card bills and other unsecured debts, it's very difficult for a parent to escape a child support bill -- even one that is long-overdue.

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Here's what you should know:

In Chapter 7 bankruptcy

Chapter 7, or "straight" bankruptcy, will discharge most of a debtor's financial obligations rather quickly -- and large banks and other institutions can usually absorb the loss fairly well. However, the same cannot be said of dependent children, so any past-due support usually still has to be paid.

The good news (for both the debtor parent and the parent who is owed support) is that the easing of all those other unsecured debts usually makes it much easier for a parent to catch up on late support payments.

In Chapter 13 bankruptcy

Chapter 13 allows the debtor parent to reorganize their debts and pay off some or all of them over a few years. During that time, the debts are prioritized according to their claim. Unsecured debts like credit cards fall to the bottom of the list -- but child support is usually at the very top. You can generally expect the trustee to pay the child support that's owed before other past-due bills.

Unpaid child support obligations can be a serious problem for both the paying parent and the recipient parent as well as for the children involved. If you need help enforcing a child support order and collecting delinquent payments, find out more about your legal options.

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