How to Enforce an Alimony Award
Unless there is a prenuptial agreement, it rare for a person to emerge from divorce financially unscathed. Dividing property and paying support can never really be factored into an individual’s finances, and accounting for this big shift is not easy. This transition is even harder for spouses who lack a work history and/or training to find sufficient employment after divorce. Those who choose to stay home for years to raise children are at a real disadvantage when a spouse’s income is no longer available, and most need alimony to make ends meet. Alimony awards are based upon the need for support and the ability of the other spouse to pay, but pushback on these obligations by the payor is common, and some go so far as to ignore the court order instead of paying. Violating a court order is not permitted, and the recipient of alimony can take steps to enforce the obligation to ensure the money is paid. Unfortunately, enforcement may not be easy, and the former spouse trying to collect alimony may have to fight to get his/her support. In one extreme example, a years-long divorce battle flared up again this year as the former wife of financial advisor, Terry Power, sought to collect her back alimony, which resulted in a contempt order being issued against Power and him fleeing to Texas. While most will not go to these lengths to avoid paying alimony, it is important for recipients to understand their right to enforce this spousal support.
Assuming the alimony is court-ordered, and not the result of a private agreement, the party entitled to support can petition the court to hold the payor in contempt for violating a court order. Depending on the payor’s reasons for noncompliance, the subsequent finding of contempt could be criminal or civil in nature. If the nonpayment was willful and intentional, meaning the payor could have paid the alimony but chose not to comply with this obligation, criminal contempt is applicable, which could result in a sentence of up to 180 days in jail, though if all the back alimony is paid, the contempt will be purged. If nonpayment was due to something beyond the payor’s control, such as job loss or major illness, civil contempt is used, and jail time is not an option. However, the judge can order the payor to find a means to pay, such as seeking employment, or look at other assets the payor may own to satisfy the obligation.
In addition to contempt, another mechanism to ensure alimony is paid is to garnish the payor’s wages, which can include pensions and spendthrift trusts. This way, the monthly obligation is automatically paid, and does not rely on the payor. This is available even if the payor has other dependents. The biggest hurdle for this option is proving the payor has the money for alimony, which can be difficult if the spouse tries to hide assets or income in an attempt to avoid paying. This possibility is one of the main reasons an experienced divorce attorney should be used to pursue the enforcement of alimony. An attorney will know all the possible avenues to pursue for collection and the most effective way to use the legal system in the recipient’s favor.
Contact a Florida Divorce Attorney
Do not try to fight for your alimony alone. Instead, use an experienced divorce attorney to get you the money you deserve. The attorneys at Baginski Brandt & Brandt know the obstacles you face, and will work to get you the best possible result. Contact our Port St. Lucie divorce lawyers at 772-466-0707 for a confidential consultation.