The Consequences of Failing to Pay Alimony

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Written by Jeffrey Johnson
Insurance Lawyer Jeffrey Johnson

UPDATED: Jul 14, 2021

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If you are obligated to pay alimony, you may feel the ruling is unfair. You can elect to appeal the judgment. It is dangerous to intentionally stop payments if the appeal has not been decided in your favor. A failure to pay can be regarded as a charge of indirect civil contempt of court, or, in some states, as criminal contempt of court. The rules regarding contempt of court cases vary between states. Typically, you can expect to be fined and/or incarcerated if you choose not to obey a judge’s orders. In some states, failure to pay alimony may also cause you to lose your driver’s license. 

The rules relating to alimony payments are state-specific and case-specific. When you are attempting to challenge a ruling related to alimony, seek the advice of an experienced divorce or family court attorney who is licensed in your state. 

Typically, the act of failing to pay alimony is considered with facts specific to your situation. The most severe penalties are reserved for those who can afford, but intentionally choose not to pay alimony. If you can afford to pay alimony, and appear to have missed one or more payments due to time issues or paperwork errors, you are more likely to be forgiven. Failure to pay alimony or notify the court that you can not afford your alimony payment indicates to the court that you lack credibility and are attempting to deceive your former spouse.  By contacting the court and your former spouse about your inability to afford alimony payments, shows the court that you are honest and doing everything possible to avoid penalties.  

If you want to stop paying alimony, look at your ruling. Is your judgment for non-modifiable spousal support? This means, does it contain language which says it cannot be changed? Also, if your judgment is for modifiable spousal support, did you sign away your right to request a modification after the initial ruling? If either of these two things is true, your only avenue to stop payment may be a successful appeal. If your judgment can be modified, it is necessary to return to court to request either a lower alimony payment or a complete suspension of alimony payment obligations. 

If you return to court to request a modification of the original ruling, you will need to provide a good explanation and supporting documentation. The judge who rules on the modification of the original alimony payment ruling may or may not be the same as the judge who initially issued the ruling and may not be familiar with all of the facts of your particular situation so it is even more important to establish a strong case for reduced alimony obligations, especially if you are attempting to show that circumstances have changed for either you or your former spouse. 

Some of the circumstances in which a judge may consider ordering that you pay less alimony or no alimony include: your former spouse has gotten a new job and has become self-sufficient; your former spouse, who used to earn less than you during the marriage, is now earning more than you; and there has been debt forgiveness for an expense incurred by a spouse during the marriage, such as an educational expense.

Talk to a divorce attorney about how you can reduce or eliminate your alimony payment in a legal, safe manner. Use the court system rather than being penalized by it. The best way to deal with an unfair alimony ruling is to show the court in an efficient, responsible manner the facts, and let the judge rule that the facts are in your favor.

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