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The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals poked another hole in the shield of bankruptcy deadbeat dads have used to avoid paying child support. Building on a July 6 ruling in In re Leibowitz, 00 C.D.O.S. 5472, which held that Chapter 7 filers could not use bankruptcy to discharge child support debts, the same three-judge panel extended that principle. “The absent parent in this case claims [recent] changes [in bankruptcy and welfare law] only apply to bankruptcy filings under Chapter 7, not Chapter 13,” wrote Judge Michael Daly Hawkins for the unanimous three-judge panel. “We disagree and hold that the new provisions apply to any bankruptcy filing under Title 11.” With In re Cervantes, 00 C.D.O.S. 5944, the unanimous panel ordered a Santa Cruz County man to reimburse more than $4,000 owed to the county for payments it made to Cervantes’ former girlfriend under the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program. In reversing the bankruptcy court, Hawkins employed a nifty bit of statutory gymnastics to escape seeming conflicts in bankruptcy law. For example, the bankruptcy court had held that under 11 U.S.C. Sec. 1328(a), Congress would not have created a new exception to discharging debt without explicitly saying so. Hawkins disagreed. “The court’s faith in the precision of legislative draftsmanship is admirable,” he wrote, “but perhaps not realistic, especially in the complex area of bankruptcy law.”

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