When one person is ordered to pay alimony (also referred to as spousal support) to the other, it is expected to be paid on time and in full. However, as the past several years have shown, challenges can arise unexpectedly and many people can have unexpected issues with their finances.
In general, failure to pay alimony can result in sanctions from the court and the possibility of being held in contempt. However, people who are legitimately facing financial difficulties and cannot comply with the order or judgment for alimony do have options under state law.
When a person cannot comply with their alimony order
A paying party who can’t keep up with their alimony order can ask the court to relieve them of the payments and not hold them in contempt for failing to pay. The court will want to know that the person is genuinely unable to pay. It can modify the order or judgment of alimony so they do not need to worry about being held in contempt.
This does not permanently modify the order or reduce what has been unpaid before the application for relief. The court can also increase the alimony amount retroactively if evidence is discovered to justify it.
If the court decides to grant relief, it will want to know when the person can again make the payments in full or in part. Perhaps they were ill or lost their job and that problem has passed. The court can then modify the order or revoke it entirely. The obligor will again be ordered to make the payments.
People in this situation should seek professional representation
While there might be a justifiable reason for a person not to be able to pay their alimony, it is still important to understand the law in these matters. Some people might try to say they cannot pay and take advantage of receiving a reprieve from paying.
In other cases, the person who is supposed to receive these payments could behave unreasonably even if the judge has ordered that the collection efforts stop and the obligor will not be held in contempt.
Whether it is viewed from the perspective of the person who is expected to pay alimony or the receiving party, it is important to be protected.
Some people can negotiate an arrangement until the obligor is in a better situation, then the missed payments can be made up. Seeking experienced help is key and this can be crucial with reaching an effective outcome in the family law case.