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Eighth Circuit BAP Finds Man Cannot Claim Dependents Not Related to Him - Turpen v. Rouse

November 7, 2012

Vincent Howard and our Rubidoux consumer bankruptcy attorneys represent Californians from all backgrounds and situations who are considering bankruptcy. That includes people living with stepchildren or a girlfriend or boyfriend's children, which is not at all uncommon. So we were disappointed to see a Bankruptcy Appellate Panel ruling from the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals finding that a bankruptcy filer cannot claim an exemption for the children of his girlfriend, who live with him. In Turpen v. Rouse, Mark Troy Turpen used Missouri's bankruptcy exemptions to claim exemptions from a tax return that would otherwise be turned over to the bankruptcy estate. The bankruptcy court agreed with the trustee that Turpen could not claim exemptions for children not related by blood or adoption, and the panel ultimately agreed.

Turpen is a single father of two. He lives with a woman who has three children, none of whom are related by blood or adoption. In 2011, he filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy; his amended schedule B form listed a tax refund of $8,491. From that amount, he claimed exemptions of $350 for each of the five minor children in the household, as well as $1,250 for himself as head of household. The trustee objected to the exemption of $1,050 for the three children not related to him, arguing that Missouri law does not permit exemptions for children not related to the debtor by blood or adoption. The bankruptcy court ultimately agreed and required Turpen to turn over the disputed money, sustaining the trustee's objection. Turpen appealed.

The Bankruptcy Appellate Panel upheld the bankruptcy court's ruling, finding the relevant section of Missouri law to be clear and unambiguous. Section 513.440 of the Missouri Revised Statutes says a head of household may exempt property valued at $350 for each of "such person's unmarried dependent children under the age of twenty-one years." Turpen argued that the use of the word "children" is ambiguous and can be interpreted as broader than just the children of the head of the family. The panel found this creative but unfounded, saying the statute plainly says the children must belong to "such person," meaning the head of the household. In the alternative, Turpen argued that he stands in loco parentis to the unrelated children, citing a decision penalizing a man for abusing an unrelated child. However, the panel noted that the court in that case was not analyzing the word "child." It declined to extend the statute and upheld the bankruptcy court.

The panel in this case noted that other laws show that the Missouri legislature knows how to include non-parental relationships in its statutes, and reasoned that it declined to do so in this case. Vincent Howard and our Garden Grove individual bankruptcy lawyers believe this is a bad choice, if it was a choice. Children don't choose their parents or their parents' living situations. They should not be punished, through lack of financial support, for the fact that their parents have not married their boyfriends or girlfriends. By the same token, potential step-parents shouldn't be denied the money required to support those children; the result is clearly bad for society as well as for the individual family. At Howard Law, P.C., our Chino personal bankruptcy attorneys appreciate the more expansive definitions of family in California law.

If you're considering filing for bankruptcy and you need help making sure you put your best foot forward, call Vincent Howard and the experienced attorneys at Howard Law for help. You can reach us toll-free at 1-800-872-5925 or send us a message through the Internet.

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