If spousal support was ordered in your divorce, it can be frustrating and financially harmful if it’s not being paid. Not only can spousal support payments limit the unfair economic impact a divorce can have on a financially dependent spouse, but it can also help to ensure they are able to get back on their feet. Importantly, courts take spousal support very seriously — and a paying spouse’s failure to meet their obligations can have serious legal consequences in California.
Also referred to as “alimony,” spousal support is a court ordered payment that is meant to help the financially dependent after divorce. While the purpose is to ensure a spouse is able to become self-supporting, alimony is typically awarded for half the duration of the marriage for marriages less than ten years. There is no specific limit applied to alimony payments for long-term marriages.
Spousal support in California can terminate in a number of ways. Specifically, it can end by court order, remarriage of the receiving spouse, or when one of the parties passes away. However, there is no guarantee that a court will order a spouse to pay alimony to the other upon divorce. Rather, various factors are taken into account, including the duration of the marriage, the payee spouse’s ability to pay, the health and earning ability of each party, each spouse’s financial assets, and any factors the court deems equitable.
Failure to pay spousal support is a serious matter that can result in adverse consequences. If you have been ordered by the court to pay alimony, you simply cannot stop making payments on your own accord. Payments must be made until the order specifies they can stop. Even if your financial circumstances have changed, you must request a new order from the court to make any adjustments.
Failure to pay court-ordered alimony can lead to the following:
Although a person cannot go to jail for being in debt, the non-paying spouse may be prosecuted if they have willfully disregarded their obligation and are held in contempt of court. In addition, any unpaid support collects interest — this means the non-paying spouse could end up being responsible for a much larger amount than they were originally ordered to pay. Under California law the outstanding spousal support balance will accrue interest at a rate of 10% annually.
The easiest way to enforce spousal support in California is to file an earnings assignment with the county clerk upon the finalization of your divorce. An earnings assignment is a court order that advises the paying spouse’s employer to take support payments directly from each paycheck. Upon receipt of the order, the employer has up to 10 days to take the money from the following paycheck.
If the parties have reached an agreement on the amount of support and there is no earnings assignment, the court order should specify how payments are made. The receiving spouse can request an earnings assignment from the court at any time if support payments are missed.
Spousal support can also be enforced by a writ of execution. This orders a law enforcement officer to satisfy a judgment by levying the paying spouse’s bank account or seizing their real or personal property. After a judgment has been entered, a writ of execution can be obtained by submitting a writ of execution form to the county clerk who will sign and seal it.
Courts understand that there can sometimes be circumstances that can make it difficult or impossible for you to fulfill your support obligations. If you are unable to make court-ordered spousal support payments due to no fault of your own, it may be best to seek a modification. This should be done as soon as possible, because support amounts cannot be modified retroactively — failure to file for a modification quickly can result in your being held responsible for the original amount and the arrears that have accrued.
If you and your spouse are amicable, you might be able to agree to a lower amount outside of court. You can submit the agreement you reached to the court — once it is signed by the judge it becomes an enforceable order. In the event a spouse refuses to consent to a modification, it may be necessary to file a petition with the court. To obtain a modification, the petitioning spouse must demonstrate there has been a material change in circumstances.
There can be many different types of situations that constitute a material change of circumstances for the purposes of obtaining a spousal support modification. For instance, involuntary unemployment, disability, illness, or unexpected reduction in income may qualify for a modification. In addition, a modification may also be warranted if the paying spouse can establish the dependent spouse had a substantial increase in income.
If you were the financially dependent spouse in your marriage, it’s important to ensure you receive the spousal support to which you are entitled. A knowledgeable divorce attorney can advise you regarding your options and advocate for your rights. Providing compassionate counsel and high-quality legal services, The Law Offices of Rick D. Banks assists clients throughout Fresno and the surrounding area with a variety of divorce and family law matters, including spousal support enforcements and modifications.
The Law Offices of Rick D. Banks has been helping clients throughout Fresno and the surrounding area with their divorce and family law matters for over 20 years. To schedule a no obligation consultation, call (559)222-4891.