What Happens If I Can’t Afford Alimony?

Alimony is one of the most contentious parts of any divorce. Some former spouses need it. Others think they’re entitled to more than they’re getting. Some people don’t mind paying, and some think it’s a revenge-based money grab from their ex. And even after the details have been worked out, something may happen, and you could find that you can’t make the court-ordered payments. What can you do? What can happen if you are unable to pay your alimony?

Court-Ordered Alimony Payments

If you and your ex filed an uncontested simple divorce, you may be making alimony payments you both agreed to. In other cases, the judge may have consulted Georgia spousal support laws and incorporated these rules into the final divorce judgment. Alimony or spousal support is based on the judge’s determination of the recipient party’s needs and the paying party’s ability to pay.

Alimony payments are part of the court’s order on division of property, and must be paid, just like any other part of the court order. Failure to make payments on time and in full can result in serious consequences if the recipient spouse wants to make a case of it.

Possible Consequences of Nonpayment of Alimony

Sometimes, paying alimony can seem unfair, but nonpayment is a bad idea. It can have serious legal consequences.

  • Contempt of court. If your ex decides to report your nonpayment to the judge, the judge will have you brought back into court to explain why you haven’t paid. There are no good excuses for nonpayment. Failing to pay again will result in a contempt charge. After that, the judge can do a number of other things.
  • Suspension of licenses. Suspension of your driver’s license is one, but any state license can be suspended, including hunting licenses, barber’s licenses, or anything you need the state’s permission for. These licenses will be held until you pay all your alimony arrears.
  • Fines and interest. The court will assess fines, court costs, and any interest that has accrued on your past-due alimony. These costs add up quickly.
  • Jail time. Although jail time for nonpayment of alimony is uncommon, it does happen if you miss enough payments, and the judge thinks you are being willfully non-compliant, or if you annoy the judge in court.

When You Really Can’t Pay

Sometimes, things happen, and you are unable to pay the full amount. It could be a work slowdown, which happened during the COVID emergency, medical emergencies, or other unforeseen circumstances that prevent you from paying. To avoid the unpleasant consequences of nonpayment, here are some things you should consider.

  • Never just stop paying. If you and your ex are not on speaking terms, have your attorney call their attorney and advise them of the situation. If you must make partial payments, you should consider doing that through your attorney of record as well.
  • Contact your former spouse. If you are on speaking terms, consider making an informal arrangement for the duration of the emergency. If you’re not on speaking terms but you think they will be understanding, you can try having your attorney contact them.
  • Mediation. This is less formal than court but more formal than talking among yourselves. If everyone is agreeable, you and your former spouse can meet with a neutral mediator and attempt to work out a temporary payment plan until you can make full payments again. The mediator will write up the agreement, and your attorney can file it with the court as part of your divorce judgment.
  • Modification. If your situation has changed and will not be improving, you can ask for a modification of the original judgment. To obtain a modification, you must be able to show a “change in [your] income and financial status.” Since this will be a court proceeding, your ex will be able to challenge this and ask for proof of your change in status.

In Georgia, you can also ask for a change or termination of alimony if the recipient spouse has entered into a “meretricious” or cohabiting relationship with another person. You will have to prove this relationship and that your former spouse and their new partner are living together in a marital relationship. In this situation, you should consult an attorney and proceed with caution.

We Can Help

Everyone goes through rough financial patches, especially in and around divorce. If you are not able to make your alimony payments, we understand. At Kessler & Solomiany, LLC, our Atlanta alimony attorneys want to get you past this trouble spot with the minimum of difficulty and stress. If you have court-ordered support payments and can’t make them on time, contact us at (404) 688-8810. We will give you a compassionate ear and realistic advice on the best way to proceed. Call today.