What happens if I fall behind on my alimony payments?

If you have fallen behind on your spousal support in California, you can face legal and financial consequences. State law creates space for recourse in most situations, but you will want to act quickly to avoid further complications.

Understanding the laws surrounding late and delinquent alimony payments can help you plan your expectations.

Consequences of falling behind

Outstanding spousal support accrues 10% interest each year, so paying on time can save significant stress on your wallet. California courts call overdue alimony “arrears” and can collect through wage garnishment or court order when left delinquent for too long.

The severity of consequences varies based on your situation. For those intentionally disregarding a court order for alimony payments, a judge can declare you “in contempt of court,” and you may face jail time. For those who have simply fallen on hard times or otherwise been unable to pay, there may be other recourse.

Recourse for inability to pay

If your failure to pay spousal support is due to a significant change in your financial circumstances, you may petition the court to reevaluate your order. You will need to demonstrate an inability to pay on your new salary, and a judge may reduce or end your alimony payments.

You can also argue that the recipient is not making a good-faith effort to be self-supporting, in which case the court may reconsider the terms of your agreement. Your responsibility to pay ends altogether if he or she remarries.

Regardless of your situation, acting quickly can save you from severe consequences — financially and otherwise. Even if a judge changes or ends your alimony order, you will still owe the outstanding balance.

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