Written by Avvo Staff

What are the consequences of not making alimony payments?

Learn what happens if you simply stop paying, if you can't afford the payments, and how payments might change

Alimony (also called spousal support) requires one spouse to pay a certain sum of money to their ex-spouse each month after a divorce or separation. Since alimony is determined by a court order, you must make alimony payments until a court orders you to stop.

What happens if you stop paying alimony to your spouse?

If you stop making alimony payments (regardless of the reason), you could face civil or criminal charges for contempt of court. Contempt of court means that you violated a court order during your divorce proceedings.

The specific consequences of failing to pay spousal support depend on where you live. In some jurisdictions, you might receive a fine or lose your driver's license. In others, you might run the risk of a jail sentence.

Since courts track alimony payments, your spouse or ex-spouse might not even have to file a complaint for you to be held in contempt of court. The state's attorney can file the paperwork themselves.

However, if your spouse or ex-spouse asks the court for help to enforce the alimony order, you’ll likely have to deal with the consequences much sooner. The court will send you a summons or other document to request your presence.

At that time, you’ll have to take steps to pay what you owe. The court might give you extra time to pay or establish a new payment plan. If you default again, however, you might face stiffer penalties.

Possible payment plans might include increasing your monthly payment to satisfy the arrears or adding an extra payment every month. Each court has a variety of options available to it, so it's impossible to know what you'll face until you go before a judge.

In some cases, your spouse or ex-spouse might ask the court to drop the alimony payment order. The court doesn’t have to honor the request, but many judges will take your spouse's or ex-spouse's opinion into account. This can depend on whether or not your alimony payments are allocated with your child support payments.

What do you do if you can't afford your alimony payments?

Job loss, pay reductions, and other life events can interfere with your ability to pay alimony. If you can't afford to pay spousal support, you should file for spousal support modification. The court will then consider your personal circumstances.

You'll have to prove that your circumstances have changed so much that you can't fulfill the court's order. For instance, if you lost your job, bring your termination letter to the hearing.

You can also bring pay stubs, tax documents, and bank account records to a court hearing for spousal support modification. The more evidence you present to the court, the better your chances that the judge will grant your request.

If you know in advance that you'll miss an alimony payment, inform the court as well as your spouse or ex-spouse immediately. You might also want to hire an attorney to help you resolve the matter.

When is your spouse no longer eligible for alimony?

If your spouse's or ex-spouses circumstances change, they might no longer be eligible for alimony. Changes to your spouse's income could impact spousal support. Additionally, if your ex-spouse re-marries, the court might terminate the support order.

Your alimony payments might also only last for a certain time period, such as 10 years. After that time passes, you can stop paying spousal support in line with the court's order.

How can you change or end an alimony order?

If you believe that you shouldn't or can't pay spousal support any longer, or if you want to reduce the amount you pay, you'll need to hire an attorney and ask the court for help. Not paying alimony while an order remains in place could put your freedom in jeopardy.

Spousal support is an important function of the court system. When you and your significant other separate or divorce, the court attempts to keep both parties on fair ground. However, failing to meet your obligations could result in serious consequences.

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