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Guardian Ad Litem Fees are Nondischargeable in Bankruptcy

By Robyn Hagan Cain on November 27, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

There are certain obligations that a bankruptcy petitioner can't shed in court.

For example, barring "undue hardship," your student loans will follow you. Forever.

Student loans, however, have nothing on child support. Courts are pretty committed to enforcing domestic support obligations. And that commitment to extends to guardian ad litem fees.

This week, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals Bankruptcy Appellate Panel ruled that fees owed to a court-appointed guardian ad litem constitute a domestic support obligation.

The case involved “prolonged and contentious proceedings” between two parents over the custody of their children, visitation arrangements and child support obligations. The state court handling the proceedings eventually appointed a guardian ad litem (GAL) to represent the children’s interests.

The GAL fees totaled $11,943.03. The state court allocated 70 percent of that amount to the father and 30 percent to the mother. Both parents eventually filed for bankruptcy. The father later argued that the GAL fee was not a domestic support obligation, and should be discharged.

The Bankruptcy Court disagreed.

The Bankruptcy Code defines a domestic support obligation as a debt that accrues before, on, or after the date of the order for relief — including interest that accrues on that debt — that is owed to or recoverable by a spouse, former spouse, child, parent or legal guardian of a child, responsible relative or governmental unit.

Here, the Sixth Circuit panel concluded that the bankruptcy court “did not err in determining that the fees owed to the guardian ad litem constitute a ‘domestic support obligation.’” Accordingly, the fees were nondischargeable.

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