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Family Law Matters: Enforcing Spousal Maintenance

Apr 20 2015

Through a divorce, it is common for the court to order that one spouse pay spousal maintenance (formerly known as alimony) to the other. These maintenance payments are often a requirement for the receiving spouse to continue living his or her current quality of life. So if they spouse required to make payments stops paying, what can be done to enforce the maintenance order?

Spousal Maintenance

Enforcing and collecting spousal maintenance for an existing maintenance order can be quite similar to enforcing a child support order. The first step in enforcing spousal maintenance payments is to talk to the other spouse to try and find a reason. While this may not seem to be the most enjoyable route, it is important to find out if the paying spouse involuntarily lost his or her job, or is experiencing a loss of income due to sickness or injury. If there is reason to believe the paying spouse truly cannot make spousal maintenance payments, it is a good idea to consider modifying spousal maintenance until the paying spouse is back to work and can make the appropriate payments. However, it is important that the receiving spouse be very clear that if the payments don't start again, he or she will take the paying spouse to court. The divorced spouses should consider hiring an attorney to draft the agreement or motion to modify spousal maintenance, ensuring that the rights of both parties are protected.

But what if the spouse who is required to pay spousal maintenance is simply trying to avoid the obligation or refusing to pay, even though he or she has the means? This changes the situation, and it means the ex-spouses will need to return to court to sort things out. It is imperative at this stage to hire an experienced family law attorney to provide high quality representation throughout the litigation. A domestic relations lawyer will be able to file a convincing motion with the court asking the judge to order the paying spouse to make overdue payments and continue with future payments.

If the judge determines that the spouse who is to be paying spousal maintenance is indeed not paying for illegitimate reasons, the judge may garnish wages to pay the receiving spouse. Other income sources may also be seized to pay the missing spousal maintenance payments, including bank accounts, retirement funds, and cash assets. After the appropriate motions are filed with the court by a skilled attorney, the courts will issue the garnishments to the employer and banks of the spouse who has failed to pay maintenance.

Another option for a spouse who has stopped receiving spousal maintenance payments is to consult with an experienced family law attorney and hold the paying spouse in contempt of the court. The attorney will file a motion of contempt with the court that issued the maintenance order and the ex-spouses will return to trial. During the trail process, the receiving spouse and his or her attorney will be charged with proving that the paying spouse did, and does, have the financial means to pay the allotted amount but chose to knowingly refuse. For a spouse found to be in contempt of the court, the judge can order him or her to pay a fine, and even sentence the contempt spouse to jail time.

If you or someone you know is not being paid spousal maintenance that was court-ordered, please contact the law firm of Flanagan & Peel, PC, to discuss the options in a legal consultation.

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Terry Flanagan

Terry J. Flanagan graduated from St Louis University School of Law in 1970, obtaining his Juris Doctorate. He obtained his undergraduate degree from St Louis University in 1967. He is a member of the Missouri Bar and licensed to practice before the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Eastern District of Missouri, as well as the Supreme Court of the State of Missouri.

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