Whether achieved by a judge’s ruling or an agreement at the end of the case a Final Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage will be entered by the judge. That paper will govern the rights and obligations of the parties. If minor children are involved it must contain provisions regarding child support. If the court’s order is not followed then a motion for contempt can be filed seeking enforcement. This typically occurs if monthly child support that is due is not paid. If alimony was ordered and not paid the procedure is the same. Both of these types of orders are considered to be “in the nature of support." That is significant because the tools available to the court are quite different when enforcing support orders. In general civil law if someone does not pay money that is owed then they can be sued and a judgment for the amount owed is entered. Then the owner of the judgment will try to collect by seizing assets or garnishing wages. However debtor’s prison has long been abolished and you cannot be put in jail for not paying your credit card. Not so with a support order. In addition to all the things a court can do to enforce a debt, a divorce court can impose incarceration for not paying a support order.
The law begins with a presumption that there is an ability to pay because the last court order found that ability. The burden is on the party that has been ordered to pay to present proof that he or she is no longer has the ability to pay. Even if jail is avoided the obligation still exists. Unpaid support bears interest until paid and is not dischargeable in bankruptcy.
There are other tools for enforcement. For example is an income tax refund is due it can be re-directed to pay the support owed. In extreme examples the driver’s license of the non-paying party may be suspended. If repeated appearances are made before the judge for unpaid support then the judge starts to remember you in an unfavorable light. If there are legitimate reasons for the non-payment such as health problems or loss of employment that may be grounds for modification of child support, or modification of alimony. It is in your interest to retain an expert in family law to prosecute or defend an action to enforce a support order.
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