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Enforcement of Alimony or Spousal Support Orders

Alimony and spousal support are terms that are used interchangeably to refer to an obligation of one spouse to provide a financial contribution to the other spouse’s cost of living and maintenance. The person who receives support is called the recipient spouse. The person who pays support to a recipient is called the obligor spouse. In some states, the term spousal maintenance is also used. In no instance do the terms involve a division of property.

Support award

The status of being a recipient spouse is created when a support order is entered. If the order is entered while a divorce case is pending, the order is called a decree pendente lite. If an order is entered at the end of a divorce proceeding, it is called a permanent support order. The only difference between the two is when each is entered.

Enforcement

If the obligor spouse fails to make the payments that are required by a support order, the recipient spouse may file a petition to hold the obligor in contempt of court. Contempt of court is defined as a willful refusal to comply with a valid court order. In many instances, a court will not hold an obligor spouse in contempt if the payments are promptly made up.

Jail

If the payments are not made current, a court may order the obligor spouse to spend time in jail. The amount of jail time varies from state to state depending on each state’s laws. An obligor spouse may purge himself of contempt by bringing all payments current. If an obligor spouse posts bail and fails to bring the payments current, a court may order the amount of the bail applied to the amount owed to the recipient, less court costs.

Attachment of Assets

Courts have the power to order the attachment of an obligor spouse’s assets upon a showing that the obligor owes support payments and has voluntarily reduced his income to avoid making payments, has left the jurisdiction and has not been found, or any other circumstance that would indicate that the obligor spouse will not comply with the support order. The property attached may be either sold to satisfy unpaid support or it may be held as security against future nonpayment. The attachment of assets can include the interception of tax refunds to which the obligor spouse is entitled.

Judgment and Interest

Upon a finding that the obligor spouse owes payments under a valid support order, the court may enter a judgment in favor of the recipient spouse and against the obligor spouse. Such a judgment has the same character as other money judgments and can earn statutory interest on the amount that was reduced to judgment.

Attorney’s Fees

An obligor spouse who fails to comply with support orders may be required to pay reasonable attorney’s fees incurred by a recipient spouse in the prosecution of a collection proceeding. The court hearing the case will determine the amount that would constitute reasonable attorney’s fees.

Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.