R. LANIER ANDERSON, III, Circuit Judge:
We consider in this bankruptcy appeal the dischargeability of a debtor's obligation to pay accrued alimony arrearages, and post-majority child support and educational expenses. We conclude that the obligations in question are not dischargeable and accordingly affirm the judgment of the district court. 33 B.R. 989.
I. FACTS AND DECISIONS BELOW
The facts as they appear from the bankruptcy court's order and the parties' agreements are essentially as follows. The debtor and his former spouse (defendant herein) entered into a separation agreement in 1971 requiring debtor to pay defendant $100 each month for her support and maintenance during her life or until she remarried, and to pay $100 each month in support of his son until his son became wholly self-supporting, married, or attained the age of 21. The agreement provided that these amounts were to vary with debtor's income. Debtor agreed to pay his son's educational expenses through college and post-graduate school, with debtor's child support payments reduced by one-half during periods he paid education expenses. The separation agreement provided also that debtor would assume the couple's joint debts, and that defendant would acquire the marital residence and responsibility for payments on its mortgage.
Debtor made payments under the agreement, but was substantially in arrears by 1974, at which time the separation agreement was amended. The amended agreement reduced the amounts of alimony and child support to a set amount of $200 monthly for each.
Debtor filed his Chapter VII petition October 17, 1980. On December 12, 1980, debtor filed a complaint in bankruptcy court to determine the dischargeability of his domestic debts. Specifically, debtor sought to have declared dischargeable the amounts he owed in alimony and child support arrearages because, he contended, such amounts were not "actually in the nature of alimony, maintenance, or support." Debtor also sought to have declared dischargeable his obligation to make payments on behalf of his son past the age of eighteen because, as expressed in his complaint, "such obligations were not and are not actually in the nature of alimony, maintenance, or support," but were "voluntarily assumed and constitute contractual obligations which are discharged by [debtor's] bankruptcy case."
The bankruptcy court, 23 B.R. 423, concluded that debtor's obligation to pay alimony
The district court reversed the bankruptcy court with respect to the alimony arrearages and with respect to the $300 monthly amount for post-majority payments. The district court otherwise affirmed the bankruptcy court, with the net result that debtor's obligations were all held not to be dischargeable in bankruptcy. Debtor appealed to this court.
Debtor's principal contentions on appeal are that: (1) the obligation to pay post-majority child support and educational expenses is dischargeable because the relevant state law does not require a parent to support his child past the age of eighteen; and (2) the alimony arrearages are dischargeable because the parties' separation agreement required debtor to pay more than defendant actually needed for support, and because defendant did not need the arrearages at the time debtor filed his petition in bankruptcy.
II. DISCHARGEABILITY OF DOMESTIC OBLIGATIONS
A debtor may obtain a general discharge under Chapter VII of the Bankruptcy Code from "all debts that arose before the date of the order for relief." 11 U.S.C.A. § 727(b) (West 1979). The Code makes exceptions for certain obligations, however, among which are alimony and support payments. The language in the Code that provides this treatment states that a discharge under section 727 does not discharge a debtor from any debt:
11 U.S.C.A. § 523(a)(5) (West 1979 & Supp.1984). The effect of the statute, then, is that a given domestic obligation is not dischargeable if it is "actually in the nature of" alimony, maintenance, or support.
A. Post-Majority Payments
Debtor contends that his obligation to pay post-majority educational expenses and child support is dischargeable because he was not required under relevant state law to support his son past the age of majority. We do not accept this argument. For several reasons we reject debtor's premise, that an obligation is "actually in the nature of support" only if it could have been imposed under the relevant state law legal duty of support.
First, the language of § 523(a)(5) does not refer to a particular state law legal duty of support. If Congress had intended dischargeability to be determined by whether an obligation could be imposed under state law, it might have addressed dischargeability in those terms. Congress chose instead to describe as not dischargeable those obligations in the "nature" of support. We believe that in using this general and abstract word, Congress did not intend bankruptcy courts to be bound by particular state law rules.
Most circuit courts of appeal that have considered the question have likewise concluded that state law does not determine whether a domestic obligation is dischargeable in bankruptcy. In Shaver v. Shaver, 736 F.2d 1314 (9th Cir.1984), for example, the court considered the effect on dischargeability of a provision under Indiana law that allowed alimony only when a spouse was incapacitated or when the parties agreed in writing to an award of alimony. Id. at 1316 & n. 4. The court did not follow the state law but looked instead to the substance of the obligation in question to determine if it was one for support. Id. at 1316. The court concluded that the parties intended to provide support "and therefore ... the obligation was `in the nature of alimony, maintenance, or support' under federal law." Id. at 1317. Having determined that the obligation was in the nature of support under federal law, the court held that it was not dischargeable in bankruptcy. Id.
Similarly, in Williams v. Williams (In re Williams), 703 F.2d 1055 (8th Cir.1983), the court observed that it was "not bound by the characterization of an award under state law." Id. at 1057. The court in Williams affirmed that a debtor's agreement to pay his wife's attorney's fees was "in the nature of support," even though under applicable state rules, the agreement would not be considered support. Id. at 1057. The court observed that "whether a particular debt is a support obligation or part of a property settlement is a question of federal bankruptcy law, not state law." Id. at 1056.
The case we have considered that is most similar to the present case is Boyle v. Donovan, 724 F.2d 681 (8th Cir.1984), in which the court considered a debtor's obligation to pay educational expenses. The court rejected debtor's argument that since he had no legal duty under state law to pay the expenses, his obligation was dischargeable. Id. at 683. The court found that the parties had intended their agreement to function as support, and that this conclusion was not altered by the fact that state law did not require the undertaking. Id.
We are of like opinion in the present case, that the nature of debtor's promise to pay educational expenses and child support is not determined by the legal age of majority under state law. The bankruptcy court characterized the agreement to pay educational expenses as in the nature of support, and the only ground on which debtor has challenged that characterization on appeal relates to the state law legal duty as determined by the age of majority. We are persuaded by the language of § 523(a)(5), the legislative history of that section, and the weight of the case law that the absence of a state law duty does not determine that an obligation is dischargeable in bankruptcy. Accordingly, we affirm the district court's decision with respect to the nondischargeability of debtor's obligation to pay post-majority child support and educational expenses.
B. Alimony Arrearages
Debtor argues on appeal that his alimony arrearages are not "actually in the nature of alimony, maintenance, or support" (1) because the payments he did make adequately met his obligation to support defendant as defined under state law; and (2) because, even if federal law applies rather than state law, defendant did not need the arrearages as of the time debtor filed his Chapter VII petition, and thus federal law would not classify such amounts as in the nature of support.
We rejected debtor's state law contention in Part II.A. above. Thus, we turn directly to debtor's contention that the bankruptcy court should assess a divorced spouse's needs and arrive at the precise amount that the spouse would require for support. In accepting this proposition, the bankruptcy court followed Warner v. Warner (In re Warner), 5 B.R. 434 (Bankr.D. Utah 1980), which held:
Id. at 442. The court in Warner reasoned that the requirement of present need was "necessary to enforce the general purpose of the bankruptcy laws in providing relief for the debtor."
Other courts have rejected the Warner approach. See Benz v. Nelson (In re Nelson), 20 B.R. 1008, 1010-11 (M.D.Tenn.1982). The language of the statute itself, the legislative history and considerations of comity, lead us to the conclusion that the district court in this case was correct in rejecting the reasoning and holding of Warner.
The language used by Congress in § 523(a)(5) requires bankruptcy courts to determine nothing more than whether the support label accurately reflects that the obligation at issue is "actually in the nature of alimony, maintenance, or support." The statutory language suggests a simple inquiry as to whether the obligation can legitimately be characterized as support, that is, whether it is in the nature of support. The language does not suggest a precise inquiry into financial circumstances to determine precise levels of need or support; nor does the statutory language contemplate an ongoing assessment of need as circumstances change.
The legislative history is to the same effect. It described the process of determining whether an obligation was in the nature of support as being similar to the determination of whether a payment is actually alimony or in reality a property settlement. The House Report that accompanied
H.R.Rep. No. 595, 95th Cong., 1st Sess. 364 (1977), U.S.Code Cong. & Admin.News 1978, p. 6319.
Considerations of comity reinforce our interpretation. Debtor's attempt to expand the dischargeability issue into an assessment of the ongoing financial circumstances of the parties to a marital dispute would of necessity embroil federal courts in domestic relations matters which should properly be reserved to the state courts.
We conclude that Congress intended that bankruptcy courts make only a simple inquiry into whether or not the obligation at issue is in the nature of support. This inquiry will usually take the form of deciding whether the obligation was in the nature of support as opposed to being in the nature of a property settlement. Thus, there will be no necessity for a precise investigation of the spouse's circumstances to determine the appropriate level of need or support. It will not be relevant that the circumstances of the parties may have changed,
Once the bankruptcy court in this case concluded that the alimony payments were "actually in the nature of alimony," its task was at an end. The obligation was thereby determined to be nondischargeable under § 523(a)(5).
For the foregoing reasons, the judgment of the district court is in all respects