What If I Don't Pay My Spousal Support Payments?

Divorce can be tricky. It can be complicated and filled with emotions. When it comes to child support, most non-custodial parents understand that it’s their duty – their obligation. Spousal support on the other hand, can be paid willingly, voluntarily, or the higher-earning spouse can feel like they’re being “forced” to do it and if it were their choice, they’d say, “No way. Go support yourself.”

When it comes to falling behind on spousal support, paying spouses usually fall into two categories: 1) those who can’t afford to pay it for a valid reason, such as a job loss, an injury, or an illness, and 2) those who refuse to pay it because they don’t want to. Some people can fall somewhere in the middle but most paying spouses fall into one of the above two groups. Which one are you in? Or, if you’re the receiving spouse, which one is your ex-husband or wife in?

Consequences of Falling Behind on Support

The courts consider spousal support to be a big deal. Much like child support, the courts have methods to collect past-due child support, including charging 10% interest per a year on the balance, wage garnishment, and even jail time if the court finds the delinquent spouse to be “in contempt of court” for failing to follow a court order.

As with child support, paying spouses cannot discharge spousal support in Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy. So, if a paying spouse falls way behind, they cannot include it in bankruptcy. Generally, spouses receiving support are directed to contact a local divorce attorney to help the courts enforce their spousal support orders.

Suggested Reading: The Cheating Spouse’s Digital Trail

Changing a Support Order

If the person paying spousal support cannot afford their monthly obligation, they should immediately go to court and ask for a downward modification (or in some cases a termination if the supportive spouse is self-supporting). Otherwise, he or she continues to owe the full amount of their support, even if their personal situation changed dramatically.