Whether achieved by a judge’s ruling or by mutual agreement of the parties, at the end of the case, a Final Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage will be entered by the court. That document will govern the rights and obligations of the parties. If minor children are involved, it must contain provisions regarding child support. If the court’s order is not followed, then a motion for contempt can be filed seeking enforcement. This typically occurs if monthly child support that is due is not paid. If alimony was ordered and not paid, the procedure is the same. Both child support and alimony are considered to be “in the nature of support.” That is significant because the tools available to the court are quite different when enforcing support orders. In general civil law, if someone does not pay money that is owed, they can be sued, and a judgment for the amount owed is entered. Then, the owner of the judgment will try to collect by seizing assets or garnishing wages. However, “debtor’s prison” has long been abolished and you cannot be put in jail for not paying your credit card. This is not the case with a support order. In addition to all the things a court can do to enforce a debt, a divorce court can impose incarceration for not paying a support order. Obviously, it is very important to obtain expert representation if you are defending an enforcement action for unpaid support.
The law begins with a presumption that there is an ability to pay because the last court order made that determination. The payor bears the burden to demonstrate that he or she no longer has the ability to pay. Even if jail is avoided, the obligation still exists. Unpaid support bears interest until paid and is not dischargeable in bankruptcy.
There are other tools for enforcement. For example, if an income tax refund is due, it can be re-directed to pay the support owed. In extreme examples, the driver’s license of the non-paying party may be suspended. If repeated appearances are made before the judge for unpaid support, then the judge may start to remember you in an unfavorable light. If there are legitimate reasons for the non-payment, such as health problems or loss of employment, then that may be grounds for modification of child support, or modification of alimony.