Financial obligations between former spouses or partners can be a hot-button issue. Giving money to an ex can feel like an unfair punishment, but the recipient can rely on this monetary contribution and may be entitled to it.
So, what happens if you can’t or won’t pay court-ordered support? The consequences could be serious.
Potential consequences of non-payment
There are penalties if you do not fulfill your legal obligation to pay spousal or child support.
Unpaid spousal support
This type of unpaid support is called alimony arrears. If you do not keep up with these payments, you could wind up in mediation or small claims court. In some cases, courts can enforce a maintenance order via wage garnishment.
Unpaid child support
To enforce a child support order, the state Department of Social and Health Services might issue an order to your employer requiring them to withhold your wages. Other possible actions could include:
- Placing liens on your property
- Referring the case to credit collectors and reporting agencies
- Suspending your driver’s, professional or recreational licenses
- Intercepting tax refunds
Failing to pay child support or alimony could also trigger contempt proceedings.
These actions can be disruptive, embarrassing and costly, so it is crucial to make every effort to fulfill your financial obligations.
Avoiding these penalties
There are essentially three ways to avoid these penalties:
- Ensure your orders are fair and reasonable from the start.
- Keep up with your payments.
- Assess the options for modification.
This third option can be crucial if you cannot keep up with payments or your circumstances have changed significantly. Some examples of these developments can include:
- Job loss
- Remarriage (of your ex)
- Serious illness or injury
- Changes in custody schedules
- Changes in your child’s needs
In these scenarios, existing support orders may no longer be appropriate; changing them can ensure they continue to align with the needs and resources of everyone involved.
Unpaid support is a serious issue. Knowing the penalties that you could face can help you appreciate the importance of securing an appropriate order in the first place and ensuring it remains fair over time.