When a couple divorces, their divorce order will likely include provisions for alimony, child support, or both. Both parties are beholden to the terms of their divorce order, and failure or refusal to pay alimony or child support as required by law carries severe penalties. If you are owed alimony or child support and your ex refuses to pay what they owe, you have several options for legal recourse.

It’s best to work with a reliable family law attorney in this situation. Your legal counsel can help you decide which option is best for securing the alimony and/or child support you are owed and provide valuable legal guidance throughout the process. If your efforts to reach out to your ex about the alimony and/or child support they owe have proven fruitless, you must take legal action as soon as possible to secure the funds you need and hold them accountable for their financial malfeasance.

File Contempt Proceedings

One of the most commonly used methods for resolving refusal to pay alimony and/or child support is to file contempt proceedings against your ex. Your attorney can help you draft a motion to hold your ex in contempt of court. If this is a first offense, the judge will likely rule that your ex must immediately pay the outstanding balance of the alimony and/or child support that they owe plus a penalty. However, if your ex has repeatedly missed or refused to remit payments, they may go to jail.

It is likely that your ex will agree to pay their outstanding balance to avoid jail time. Contempt of court can also result in your ex losing some of their custody or visitation rights if they have any in your divorce order, and contempt proceedings may also allow you to initiate modification proceedings to alter your original divorce order.

Withholding Income

It is also possible for you to petition the court to withhold your ex’s income. A judge may order your ex’s employer to garnish their wages, meaning that a percentage of their paychecks will be automatically transferred to you to cover alimony and/or child support. A withholding order can ensure you continue to receive the payment you are legally due and ensures immediate transfers with every paycheck. This method is only truly effective if your ex is employed, but it provides the greatest level of security when it comes to ensuring you receive what you are legally owed.

File a Writ of Execution

Your attorney can help you determine whether filing for a writ of execution would be most appropriate in your situation. If your ex has failed to pay alimony and/or child support and they are not employed, wage garnishment isn’t a viable option for resolving the situation. A writ of execution would allow the court to seize your ex’s bank accounts, stock holdings, and other assets if you know where they keep their money. Most courts will only approve a writ of execution if your ex owes you a substantial sum of back child support and/or alimony.

File for a Judgment Plus Interest

One of the simpler options you can seek to resolve this situation would be to petition the court to enter a judgment against your ex that requires them to pay their outstanding alimony and/or child support balance plus compensation for legal fees. Additionally, the court will likely approve interest for the time they have missed their payments. If the court enters a judgment against your ex, the court will automatically place a lien against any real estate property they own. This will ensure you receive appropriate payment if your ex ever sells the property.

Petition for Imprisonment

One of the most extreme measures you could take to secure alimony and/or child support your ex owes to you is to ask the court to put them in jail until they pay what they owe. This is rarely granted as, in most cases, jail time would prevent the individual from earning income with which they could pay what they owe.

Defenses Your Ex May Use

It is possible that your ex has failed to pay alimony and/or child support due to issues beyond their control. If you initiate legal proceedings against them for inability to pay, they may claim they are unable to pay alimony and/or child support due to economic misfortune beyond their control. This will not excuse them from the balance they owe, but it will form an absolute defense against contempt of court.

If the court determines that your ex is unable to pay alimony or child support due to forces beyond their control, they will not go to jail or face contempt of court. However, their obligation does not change unless they secure a modification to the original divorce order that stipulates their alimony and/or child support obligations.

Why You Need an Attorney

If your ex has failed or refused to pay you alimony or child support, this can easily create a difficult financial situation for you that is not your fault. However, it may not necessarily be your ex’s fault, either. You can only file contempt proceedings or a motion for judgment if your ex has willingly refused to pay you what they owe. Hiring an experienced attorney is one of the best things you can do in this situation, as your legal counsel will be able to quickly determine the best method for resolving the situation.

Your resolution may be more expansive than you initially expect and may even involve the modification of your original divorce order. For example, your ex may argue that they failed to pay alimony and/or child support due to deficiencies with the original order. You and your ex may need to revisit the issue in post-judgment modification proceedings and clarify the terms of your divorce order.

If you are owed alimony or child support and your efforts to contact your ex about their missing payments have been fruitless, it’s best to contact a reliable family law attorney right away. Your attorney can assess the situation and determine the best legal remedies available to you.