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When Your Ex Won't Pay

Whether it is spousal or child support, if you're not receiving the money you're legally supposed to receive, your ability to keep up with your own financial obligations could be in jeopardy. Here are some tips to make sure that doesn't happen.

When you settled your divorce, you thought you ensured your financial future. As the ruling came down from the courts, the judge determined that your ex would be financially responsible to you in the eyes of the law (and perhaps also to your kids given the situation). Monthly alimony/child support payments would come your way each month, ensuring that you'd never have to choose between putting meals on the table, and paying the electricity bill.

For a few months, things work as scheduled. Support deposits hit your bank account with regularity. But then a few more months passed and the cash flow halted. Your ex stopped paying.

Now, your kids want to join a recreational soccer team and take piano lessons, but there's no money. Or, the car you rely upon to get to your job needs major repairs, but you can't afford it. You worry you'll lose your job if you fail to show up one day because you can't get there.

The point of the matter is that you SHOULD be able to pay for these things because the law says you SHOULD be receiving support.

While there may be a good reason why your ex isn't paying (e.g., a job loss or medical emergency), you're certainly within your rights to fight for what's legally yours. What follows are some tips for how to collect unpaid support.

Work it Out Amicably

Spousal Alimony (Money for You)

  • Try to work it out together. You may not be thrilled with your ex or his/her behavior, but if you can stomach brief meetings or phone calls to express your need for money, it can save you a lot of trouble down the road. Your ex may be more amenable to forking over support, knowing you're not funding a new wardrobe but are paying for necessary living expenses.
  • Establish the right atmosphere. Have your discussions in a place where there won't be any interruptions, and at a time when you aren't stressed. Agree to try to see each other's point of view. Be honest, and if the conversation becomes heated or isn't productive, stop.
  • Work with a mediator-a neutral third-party who directs your conversations when you struggle to do it on your own. This option is significantly cheaper than hiring an attorney. A quick search of your local phone book under "Mediation" or "Divorce Counseling" will identify experts in your area. Similarly, a website search using your city and these same terms can identify experts.
  • Consider a temporary change in terms. If your ex loses his/her job and can't afford monthly alimony payments, you may want to consider a temporary adjustment of terms. Today's challenging economic times are affecting more and more Americans. Receiving partial payments from your ex may be better than receiving nothing at all. Be reasonable with your ex, but protect your legal rights by consulting with an attorney before agreeing to anything.

Child Support (Money for Your Kids)

  • Where appropriate and safe, make sure your ex feels he/she has enough access to the children. Your ex may be withholding funds because he/she feels you're keeping the children away.
  • Make sure your ex feels involved in various decisions about the children (e.g., after-school activities, large-ticket purchases, where the children will spend holidays or attend college, etc.). The more in-tune your ex is with your children's schedules and sees that you are spending money on your children appropriately, the more likely your ex may be to paying support.
  • Your state's child support office may also have some advice. Look in the government section of your local phone book for contact information or search the Internet to find the right office in your town.

Take Legal Action

When friendly approaches don't work, consider taking legal action. Work with an attorney to file the appropriate documents stating that your ex is in violation of the divorce order. If you can't afford an attorney, you might be able to fill out the paperwork at divorce court yourself. There may even be volunteer lawyers available to help you.

Once you file the appropriate motion, often called a contempt or enforcement motion, a judge will issue a ruling, which in theory, should enforce the original court order as long as circumstances haven't changed too dramatically.

One possible outcome is that the judge may decide to force your ex's employer to withhold an appropriate portion of your ex's wages and arrange for these garnished wages to be distributed to you (Pension and Social Security payments can also be garnished). Another outcome is that if your ex holds a professional certification, the court could take it away. You could also file a motion with the courts to have any weapons permits or recreational licenses (e.g., fishing or hunting) revoked.

Additionally, consider contacting the federal Internal Revenue Service (IRS). If your ex is paying taxes and is owed a refund, you may be able to collect a portion of that money. A tax professional can provide appropriate advice in this area.

If large dollar amounts are involved, and you know where your ex is keeping hidden assets, you could request that the court seize those assets, including bank accounts, stocks, mutual funds, etc. Alternatively, you could request a money judgment from the court in which the court places a lien on any real estate property your ex owns. This type of judgment is likely detrimental to your ex's credit standing.

As a measure of last resort, if your ex repeatedly fails to pay support, your local law enforcement might even whisk your ex off to jail.

Note that the above suggestions are just that-suggestions. If you find yourself in this situation, consult with an attorney who specializes in divorce in your state. Whether you have to take your ex to court to force the issue and reclaim support owed to you or whether you can work it out amicably, raising kids and maintaining a home are expensive. Do what you need to do to get the support you deserve.

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