When the divorce papers are signed and the parties go their separate ways, it may feel like the days of dealing with the court system are finally over. However, if spousal support or child support is part of the legal agreement, problems that arise might be cause to call your lawyer. Sometimes, a divorcee needs to modify or enforce an existing court order down the road. More often than not, an attorney is necessary to guide him or her through it.
Those who receive child support sometimes have a hard time collecting. In 2011, noncustodial parents owed custodial parents more than $100 billion in child support payments in the U.S. In 75 percent of the cases, the noncustodial parent refused to make their payments even though they were able to afford them. Only 19 percent of eligible custodial parents received the full amount of child support that the court awarded them. Although there are still cases where noncustodial parents truly want to provide their children with the lifestyle they deserve and are faithful in making their payments as ordered, these statistics prove that support recipients can’t let nonpayments go to the wayside. Working with a lawyer can make a big difference in getting payments on time.
Parents can sometimes figure out why child support payments did not arrive and they can correct the problem. However, many find that enforcement won’t happen without going back to court.
If you are missing alimony payments, one of the first things you or your lawyer can do is find out why the other party isn’t paying. Although not paying spousal support is not considered as serious as not paying child support, it is still a violation of a court order. If the person who has to pay spousal support has discontinued payments due to their own difficult circumstances, such as becoming unemployed or because they are facing a medical hardship, some compassion may be necessary in order to calculate a reasonable monthly payment.
Getting the Court’s Help to Enforce an Existing Court Order
If an alternate agreement doesn’t work out, additional paperwork needs to go to the court. A lawyer can make sure this is done correctly in order to avoid delays. The court can then enforce an existing court order in the following ways:
- Contempt. A charge of contempt of court is a straightforward consequence for not complying with a court order. Continued refusal to pay past due payments as well as current ones may result in jail.
- Income withholding. Rather than send noncustodial parents to jail, the court may take money from a person’s paycheck to make payments. As long as the payer remains employed, the recipient will get support. However, it is more difficult to use this solution with unemployed or self-employed parties.
- Writ of execution. The judge may award a portion of bank accounts or other assets to the person who has not been receiving court-ordered payments.
If circumstances change, modifying a court order may be necessary. For the court to approve a modification, one party must show a significant change in circumstances. This may include:
- A significant increase or decrease in one parent’s income
- Temporary inability to pay due to prolonged unemployment or other expenses such as a medical emergency
- Increased medical costs for a child
- A child’s needs change significantly
- An existing custody agreement doesn’t work due to a child’s schedule with sports or other extracurricular activities
- Abuse of alcohol or drugs, or physical abuse that puts a child at risk
In many instances, parents work out modifications to their custody or child support arrangement without notifying the court. It is important to make such adjustments legal by notifying the court in writing. Failure to do so could allow a former spouse to reverse his or her decision to cooperate. Then, you would need to adhere to the original agreement.
If you are having trouble collecting spousal and/or child support, contact us for a case evaluation. We can help you enforce an existing court order. That way, your payments get back on track. Call our office at (215) 523-6900.