There are many reasons people fall behind on support payments. It's possible that the paying spouse is financially unable to make the payments because he or she lost a job or experienced a reduction in income due to illness or injury. It's also possible the paying spouse simply doesn't want to make the payments, perhaps out of spite.
Either way, the ultimate question is the same: If an ex-spouse won't (or can't) pay spousal or child support, what are your options? While each case is unique, here are three possible courses of action to consider:
- Enter into a private agreement. If your former spouse genuinely cannot afford to make support payments at this time -- for example, because of unemployment, illness, or injury -- your best option might be to work out a private agreement which suspends or reduces the support payment amount and/or adjusts the frequency of payments until your ex gets back on his or her feet. That being said, remind your ex-spouse that you will go to court if he or she does not resume making payments. It's a good idea to have your family law attorney draft the agreement to make sure all of your legal bases are covered.
- Try mediation. If you need a more formal setting to openly communicate and reach an agreement, mediation might be a good option for you and your ex. Couples often use mediation to resolve child support and spousal support issues because it's less adversarial and more cost-effective than going to court. Mediation also gives you and your ex greater flexibility and more options than court-ordered remedies.
- Go to court. If your ex-spouse is simply trying to avoid the obligation to pay support or refuses to pay despite your agreement, another option is to lawyer up and return to court for a contempt proceeding. A court can help figure out the most effective way to enforce child support and spousal support orders, such as wage garnishment.
For more detailed information on your potential options, check out The FindLaw Guide to Getting Child Support Payments and The FindLaw Guide to Spousal Support.
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