Alimony, or spousal support, is a court-ordered payment from one spouse to another in the event of a legal separation or divorce. These payments are intended to provide financial support to the spouse who may not be financially stable due to the divorce. It may be ordered so the receiving spouse can maintain their pre-divorce lifestyle, or to allow them sufficient time to regain financial independence and stability. 

A common example of this would be when one spouse gave up their career during the marriage, in order to raise their family or allow the other spouse to pursue their own career opportunities.

Alimony can be generally classified as either rehabilitative, or reimbursement. Rehabilitative alimony refers to what was previously mentioned, in which the receiving spouse is granted support to regain financial stability. Reimbursement alimony is generally awarded to a receiving spouse if they worked full time in order to allow the paying spouse to complete their education. Alimony payments can be temporary or permanent. 

It is important to note that in terms of spousal support, permanent means that the payments are to be made until some life changing event, such as the death or remarriage of the spouse. Temporary support is typically paid when the couple separates, but has not yet divorced.

Spousal support payment arrangements are generally agreed to by divorcing spouses in their marital settlement agreement, or they are court ordered. Alimony is paid as either a monthly payment or as one lump sum in cash, check, or money orders. Unacceptable forms of alimony payment include debt, property, or services. Additionally, alimony is typically not awarded in short term marriages, or in cases where both spouses earn the same amount of income.

What Happens If a Spouse Refuses to Pay Alimony?

As previously mentioned, alimony is generally ordered when one spouse is low-earning or non-working, and requires the temporary financial support of the other in order to take care of themselves. When alimony is awarded, the spouse ordered to make the payments must pay a specified amount of payments either each month or as one lump sum. The amount and the length of the alimony payments may be agreed mutually by the spouses. 

However, if the spouses cannot agree on an amount of spousal support or spousal support itself, a court may step in and set the terms for spousal maintenance. Typically, this occurs at a trial. 

Once alimony has been court ordered, the paying spouse must make these payments until one of the following occurs:

  • The ordering judge has set a specific date in which to terminate payments;
  • The receiving spouse remarries;
  • Either spouse dies;
  • The judge determines that payments are no longer necessary after a reasonable amount of time;
  • The judge determines that the receiving spouse has not made a reasonable effort to become at least partially financially independent; or
  • The paying spouse is able to convince the judge that they can no longer make alimony payments due to a significant life changing circumstance.

If the paying spouse refuses to make the alimony payments before any of the aforementioned conditions has been met, the receiving spouse has a few possible options:

  • Contact the county’s appropriate department of revenue for enforcement assistance;
  • Retain an attorney in order to file a motion for contempt of court ordered payments; or
  • File your own motion for contempt court ordered payments using the appropriate forms approved by your specific state.

Once the court has ordered that the alimony is to be paid, in full and in a timely manner, failure to pay is considered to be disobeying a court order. This is known as contempt of court, as previously mentioned. The following legal remedies may be available to the receiving spouse in order to enforce a court order for spousal support:

  • Wage, real, or personal property liens;
  • Garnishment of wages or property; or
  • A further court order in which the paying spouse is required to pay the delinquent amount, in addition to a certain percent interest rate on the delinquent amount.

The willful failure to make court ordered alimony payments could lead to a potential increase in the amount of payments, or possible imprisonment, depending on the specific state.

What Else Should I Know About Alimony?

Depending on your state’s law on spousal support, spousal support payments may or may not be tax deductible. Further, in some states, the spouse that is receiving spousal support may have to include any payments received as income. Therefore, in alimony collection cases all of the past payments that are collected, may have to be listed as income in regards to filing taxes. 

In many states, if the spouses have a prenuptial agreement, that agreement may not prevent spousal or child support payments in the event of a divorce. However, some states do allow the spouses to waive or limit spousal support payments if the agreement is considered to be unfair or unreasonable. 

Additionally, in many states, spousal support is more likely to be awarded in cases where the dissolution of marriage was caused by one of the parties. For example, in cases of adultery or domestic violence, spousal support payments may be more likely to be ordered to the victim. 

Do I Need an Attorney for Alimony Collection?

If you are facing a situation in which you are not receiving your court ordered spousal support, you should consult with a skilled and knowledgeable family law attorney. An experienced family law attorney can advise you of your rights and options, as well as your state’s specific laws regarding alimony payments. 

Additionally, an attorney can file an enforcement action on your behalf to collect spousal support that you are owed. Finally, an attorney can represent you in court as needed.