(7th Cir. Sept. 14, 2016)
The Seventh Circuit affirms the bankruptcy court and district court ruling that debtor husband must pay ex-wife’s attorney’s fees as a priority, non-dischargeable domestic support obligation (DSO). Debtor was ordered by a state court to pay $25,000 directly to his ex-wife’s attorney for “significant over-trial”. He never paid and eventually filed Chapter 13. His ex-wife’s attorney filed a DSO claim for $25,000. Debtor objected to the claim but was overruled. On appeal, he argued that the over-trial award did not deserve DSO status because it was not payable to his spouse, former spouse, child, or caregiver as required by §101(14A) of the Code. The 7th Circuit noted that debtor’s interpretation of §101(14A) was correct, but refused to address this argument because he failed to raise it before the bankruptcy court or the district court. Debtor also argued that DSO status should be denied because the over-trial award was intended as punishment, not as support, but the Court noted that every Circuit that has considered the issue (including the 6th, in In re Rugiero, 502 F.App’x. 436, 439 (6th Cir. 2012)) has recognized that attorney fee awards can constitute support under certain circumstances. Opinion below.
Circuit Judges: Ripple, Kanne, and Williams
Attorney for Debtor/Appellant: Jared Nusbaum
Attorney for Appellee: Helen Ludwig
Author: Robert Imperial