Q&A: What Can You Do if Your Spouse is Not Paying You Pursuant to the Divorce Settlement Agreement?

Spouse refuses to pay divorce settlement, alimony, maintenance or spousal support as ordered?

Believe it or not, this problem is quite common. After a divorce settlement agreement has been reached and the judge has signed off on it and made it official, you think would think that all would be well and your headaches are all behind you as far as this spouse and marriage goes. But the problems could only be about to begin. Because a lot of spouses are deadbeats as far as divorce settlement is concerned. The post I wrote before this one (5 Ways to Avoid Paying Alimony was not meant to encourage non payment but to acknowledge that a lot of people don’t or can’t pay .)

Can you do anything about it when your spouse refuses to pay as agreed? Well, go back to court and get a contempt motion is one option. Or hope the judge throws your ex into prison. But an ex in prison does not put cash in your bank account, does it? So while this option may satisfy your instant rage at being defied, it really does not solve the problem that you are not getting your money.

Some judges will issue an order allowing your spouse’s employer to garnish their wages. This is not always an option especially if your spouse is self employed. But where it is an option, it is an option and the court can definitely use it.

Another option other than jail is to word the QDRO (Qualified Domestic Relations Order), if there is one, in such a way that if the spouse fails to pay, the money can be deducted whether now or in the future from their retirement benefits. See this Forbes article on this topic.

The judge can also put a lien on real property owned by your spouse, or even order a sale if it is applicable in your case.

Bank accounts can be ordered frozen.

Tax refunds can be seized.

The thing is that you have to be very prepared even before the judgment is signed. You have to anticipate that the day could come here payments could stop so that you can draft your agreement in the right way to make sure you get your money irregardless (yes, I know this is not an English word!) You need a lot of “if” “then” clauses in the agreement. Because it is very difficult to change an agreement or to modify it later on if payment stops. This is especially relevant if you want to get the QDRO involved. This has to be properly drafted before the judge signs off on it. You may also want to insure your settlement agreement for the very possibility that your spouse could stop paying in the future.

There are many options available but most would have to be done before the final judgment is signed.

Your best bet if you are in this situation is to go back to your attorney and he or she will likely have to start with a motion for contempt against your spouse for failing to pay as agreed and ordered.

Now, of course, if your spouse stopped paying for a good, excusable reason (unemployment, illness) you could be out of luck – especially if you do not have a contingency plan built into the original divorce settlement agreement.