It's not uncommon for a spouse to stop making their court-ordered alimony or spousal support payments. Sometimes it's an oversight that is easily remedied. In other instances, it's intentional. When you rely on this money for your household budget, it's a major concern you need remedied.
Your spouse might begin by making your payments late. Then eventually, payments might stop. The court gave you the right to be paid, but your spouse is doing everything they can to keep from paying you. Fortunately, there are solutions.
The Purpose of Spousal Support
The higher-earning spouse pays spousal support (also called spousal maintenance) to the lower-earning spouse at an amount established by the court per state guidelines. In most cases, the payments are for a limited number of years and are designed to help the lower-earning spouse become financially stable (although lifetime alimony is an option, and in the case of wealthy couples, the maintenance may be used to continue a standard of living for a transitional period).
Often a spouse has not placed their education or career at the forefront during a marriage, and spousal support is intended to help them regain their footing so that they can support themselves moving forward. Spousal support is not designed to be punitive, nor is it designed to be an award for a spouse who has been treated poorly during the marriage. The sole purpose is to ensure that the lower-earning spouse can continue to support themselves after the divorce.
Despite that clear legislative purpose, often, the higher-earning spouse does see spousal support as punitive. They may think it is unfair, and they may also believe that somehow the lower-earning spouse has somehow gotten away with something. This, in turn, builds resentment and anger. The paying spouse often feels they have all the power in this situation – after all, they are the one who writes the checks. Exercising that power to express their anger then becomes the next step. Your ex may withhold payments or make late payments just to show you they can, to punish you, or to feel in control of the situation.
What You Can Do
It doesn't matter why your ex thinks they can stop making maintenance payments. If your ex thinks they can withhold or stop making your spousal support payments, they're wrong. Court orders can't be ignored, no matter how rich or powerful your ex is. If your spouse misses even a single payment, you're entitled to get help from the court.
The first thing you need to do is create a careful record of when your former spouse has made payments and when they've skipped them. Next, call your attorney. Your attorney will help you go to court and make sure you get all the money you are owed.
Enforcement of Court Orders
If your ex stops making payments, this is a violation of a court order, and the court may decide your ex is in contempt of court. In New York state, there are a variety of remedies your attorney can seek. Ultimately, it's up to the judge to decide how to enforce the court order. This could include:
- Serving time in jail for being in contempt of court
- Payment of a fine for being in contempt of court
- Establishment of an income execution order, deducting the payments you are owed from your ex's pay, and sending the payments directly to you. This can apply to the arrears owed as well as to the future payments that will be owed
- Entering a judgment against your ex-spouse for the funds you are owed (plus interest) which then allows your attorney to collect on the judgment
- Entering an order for your ex to repay your attorney fees involved in the enforcement case
The court takes maintenance payments seriously, no matter your station in life or circumstances.
Since you will be in court anyhow to pursue the violation, your attorney may suggest that you also seek an upward modification of your maintenance amount. In New York, maintenance can be modified if:
- There has been a substantial change in circumstances since the order was entered;
- It has been three years since the order was entered by the court; or
- There has been a 15 percent change in your or your ex's income since the order was entered
When your ex is facing the judge for failing to make maintenance payments, they are already in a weakened position; thus, this can be an excellent time to seek a modification in the amount of the payments.
Spousal maintenance is a serious matter that the courts take very seriously. If your spouse misses a payment, be sure to get in touch with your attorney immediately to discuss your options. Do not let your ex intimidate you or make you feel as if you do not deserve the funds owed to you.
A court order is enforceable, and you are completely within your rights to seek enforcement. Your attorney will assist you in making sure you are paid exactly what you are owed.