Not Receiving Support Payments? Here Are Your Next Steps

What Happens next When One Spouse Is not Receiving Agreed-Upon Support Payments?


There are many times throughout my practice when clients need help enforcing financial judgments entered in their favor through, either in a divorce or paternity case. In most cases, these financial judgments will be based upon child support, spousal support, or alimony, or sometimes it can even be based upon the division of marital assets. Once judgments are entered, it should stand to reason that the recipient of the payments will come to rely upon these monies in their day-to-day lives, so when a person is not receiving support payments, the consequences can sometimes be quite severe, for both parties.

The first question I usually get when a client is having trouble collecting on a judgment is: What can I file in court to hold the other party accountable and start getting my money again? The easy answer is to file a Motion for Civil Contempt and Enforcement, in which you would ask the court to find the other party in contempt of the previous judgment or order that directed them to pay the money, and also for an Order of Enforcement so that the court will actively enforce the terms of the previous court order. The hard part, depending on the circumstances of the entire situation, including such factors as the original amounts ordered, how long the payments have not been made for, the total amount of support actually owed and the paying party’s current financial situation, may be actually collecting the monies owed in a timely fashion.  

Consider These Steps When You Are Not Receiving Support Payments

Unfortunately, in most cases the court will not consider these types of matters to be emergencies, so going through the court process from filing your motion to getting a hearing date may vary from anywhere from two to six months, and sometimes even longer depending on the intricacy of the issues involved and the court’s calendar. Once you do get your motion together, you will want to formally request all forms of relief available for these types of enforcement actions, including, but certainly not limited to re-payment of all back support, with appropriate interest, continued payments as previously ordered, punitive fines as a punishment for non-payment, coercive fines to force them to start making the payments again, attorney’s fees, if applicable, and in more extreme cases, even incarceration of the non-paying party. Now, the court may not order every form of relief that gets requested, and some forms of relief may not be appropriate in particular cases, however its always advisable to provide the court with all available options in which to enforce its prior orders.

Another important consideration in determining the likely success of a Motion for Civil Contempt/Enforcement will be the other party’s current financial situation and their basis for non-payment. If the other party has legitimately fallen on hard times, such as by unexpectedly or involuntarily losing their job, suffering a medical episode or condition that prevents them from working, or otherwise has valid reasons to provide to the court that would explain why they do not have the current ability to pay the amounts previously ordered, then it is possible the court would not hold that person in contempt. If, however, there are flimsy reasons for non-payment not supported by substantiated evidence or documentation, then the chances of a court finding the non-paying party in contempt would increase significantly.  

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