Court Ordered Spousal Support Not Paid: What Can You Do?

Jun 29, 2020

If your court-ordered spousal support is not paid, is there anything you can do about it? Fortunately, yes – there are legal remedies, and the court can enforce your order.

Here’s what you need to know.

Court Ordered Spousal Support Not Paid: What Can You Do?  

When your court-ordered spousal support is not paid, either because your ex refuses to pay or doesn’t have the means to pay it, you have a handful of options. First, you can try to contact your ex and find out what’s going on. There may be a logical reason for your ex’s failure to pay, such as the loss of a job or a sudden illness. If you believe your ex-spouse is unable to pay for a valid reason, you might consider working out an agreement that can reduce or suspend your payments until he or she gets back to work. However, if you choose this route, make sure your spouse knows you’re willing to go to court if necessary. You may also want to consider talking to a Beverly Hills alimony attorney who can help draft a formal agreement – that way, all your bases are covered in the event that your ex’s circumstances go back to normal. 

If that’s unsuccessful, you and your attorney can file a motion to order your spouse to make the overdue payments (and keep up with future payments). 

Significant Changes in Circumstances

Court ordered spouse

Sometimes a person becomes unable to pay spousal support. That can happen because of job loss, layoffs, new expenses or a variety of other reasons. However, if you have a court order that says you’re supposed to receive spousal support, that order is in effect until the person who’s supposed to pay it petitions the court to change it (or it expires, but that’s another story).

Your ex cannot simply stop making spousal support payments because he or she has had a change in circumstances. The law requires your ex to let the court know so the court can change the order (if it’s warranted). 

Related: If I quit my job, do I still have to pay alimony?

How to Collect Spousal Support That’s in Arrears

If your ex owes you past-due spousal support – called arrears – you and your attorney can ask the court to change his or her earnings assignment to include extra money to pay it off. The law says that your ex will also have to pay interest, which accumulates at a rate of 10 percent per year, if your court-ordered spousal support is not paid.

What is an Earnings Assignment?

When a court orders spousal support in California, a notice goes to the payor’s employer. The employer withholds the appropriate amount of money from that person’s paycheck and sends it to the recipient. It’s the same thing as wage garnishment, although it has a different name. You and your spouse can come up with an alternative to an earnings assignment, though – usually, as long as you both agree, the judge will be fine with it. 


Consequences of Not Paying Court-Ordered Spousal Support  

There are serious consequences when court-ordered spousal support is not paid. The judge in your case can compel your ex to pay through wage garnishment, put a levy against his or her bank account, or intercept his or her tax refund. Additionally, a judge can hold someone in contempt of court when court-ordered spousal support is not paid.

In some cases, the local child support agency becomes involved (they do more than simply handle child support). When that happens, the child support agency can:

  • Put a lien on property and bank accounts that he or she owns in California
  • Intercept tax refunds
  • Intercept unemployment, workers’ compensation and disability benefits
  • Suspend his or her licenses, including a driver’s license, business licenses, professional and sporting licenses

A Word on Contempt of Court for Failure to Pay Spousal Support

Holding someone in contempt of court is usually a judge’s last resort. Typically, judges only do this when other methods of enforcing a spousal support order have failed. You don’t get to “press charges” or ask the judge to do this, though; it’s up to individual judges.

If the judge in your case holds your ex-spouse in contempt of court, the consequences are serious. It’s actually a crime – a misdemeanor – and it carries a penalty of up to 6 months in jail. 

What About Qualified Domestic Relations Orders?  

In some cases, you can get a Qualified Domestic Relations Order, or QDRO. This type of order recognizes your right to receive benefits that are in someone else’s retirement plan. The judge in your case can use a QDRO if your ex-spouse has a pension plan, 401(k) or another type of retirement plan.

Do You Need Legal Advice About Court-Ordered Spousal Support That’s Not Paid?  

The bottom line is that judges don’t appreciate their orders being ignored – and ignoring a court order is against the law. If you have a spousal support order in place and your ex refuses or fails to pay without showing the court a good reason, you can take legal action.

If you need to talk to an attorney about unpaid spousal support, we’re here to give you advice. Call us at 310-820-3500 today to talk to a lawyer about your situation.