• Can a debtor who files a “Chapter 13” bankruptcy plan continue to make monthly contributions to his church? No, concluded a federal district court in Florida. The debtor filed a plan under which he proposed to pay only $50 per month for three years (a total of $1,800) against $90,000 in unsecured debts. The plan reflected monthly take-home pay of $1,150 out of which the debtor donated $160 to his church. Under federal law, a bankruptcy court need not confirm a Chapter 13 plan over the objection of the bankruptcy trustee unless the plan provides that all of the debtor’s “projected disposable income” over the next three years “will be applied to make payments under the plan.” The bankruptcy trustee objected to the debtor’s plan, arguing that by making the monthly contributions of $160 to his church the debtor was not applying all of his “disposable income” toward the payment of his debts. The issue, as stated by the court, was whether “the court, over the objection of the trustee, can confirm a plan which pays only a minimal dividend to unsecured creditors while the debtor continues to devote substantial amounts of his income to the support of his church.” The court concluded that the trustee was correct in objecting to the plan, and accordingly it denied the debtor’s bankruptcy petition. The court observed: “[We] reject the proposition … that the constitutional separation of church and state protects debtors who with the ability to make payments to their creditors choose instead to donate those funds to their church. While church donations may be a source of inner strength and comfort to those who feel compelled to make them, they are not necessary for the maintenance or support of the debtor or a dependent of the debtor” and accordingly the debtor failed to meet the “disposable income test required for confirmation of the plan.” In re Miles, 20 Collier Bankruptcy Cases 912 (N.D. Fl. 1989).
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