Alimony, known as spousal support or maintenance in Texas, is a court-ordered payment from one ex-spouse to another after a divorce. It’s designed to help the receiving spouse maintain their standard of living if they cannot do so on their own.
As hard as you try to make these payments, sometimes you may find yourself in a situation where it’s just not possible. You may have lost your job, developed a disability, or suffered a financial setback, making it difficult or even impossible to make the payments. This situation begs the question: What happens if you can’t pay alimony?
When you’re responsible for making payments, and something has changed in your life that prevents you from meeting your obligations, it’s important to understand how Texas courts view your situation. Let’s explore the possibilities so you can make informed decisions about what to do next.
– Important Note: In the interim, make sure you continue to make payments. Please don’t stop making payments. Otherwise, you risk more significant trouble with the court. You must go through the legal system to formally request a change to your financial obligations.
Enforcement Actions Are Possible
When you’re ordered to pay alimony and fail to do so, the court may take enforcement actions against you. The terms of your divorce decree are legally binding, and failing to pay spousal support or meet other terms of the decree can result in legal trouble.
Either your ex-spouse or the court can initiate an enforcement action. If successful, the enforcement action may result in you being deemed in contempt of court, which is an offense that occurs when someone fails to comply with a court order.
Depending on the severity of your situation, penalties for contempt of court can include fines, additional alimony payments, or even jail time.
If the court obtains evidence that you can meet your obligations despite not doing so, a judge may resort to wage garnishment to ensure that your ex-spouse receives the payments. This means money will be taken directly from your paycheck to cover the obligation.
Remedies May Be Available
If you can’t afford to make regular payments to your ex-spouse, you should never simply stop paying and hope for the best. Instead, you can pursue remedies with the court to try and get your situation resolved.
As soon as you experience a life change that may impact your ability to meet your alimony obligation, you should notify the court. This effort will provide you the opportunity to explain your situation and discuss potential remedies that could help you get back on track.
This step also shows the court that you’re not deliberately avoiding your payments and are willing to work toward a resolution.
Modifying the Original Alimony Order
One possible remedy available under Texas law is a modification of the original order. In Texas, if there is a “material and substantial change in circumstances,” the court may decide to modify an alimony order.
Only a court can modify the order, so even if you and your ex-spouse agree to change the terms, it still needs to be approved by the judge presiding over your case.
While each situation is different, certain life changes may be considered “material and substantial” enough to lower your alimony obligations, including the following:
- Involuntary job loss
- A serious illness or injury
- A significant reduction in income
- Other personal losses impacting your financial position
It’s important to keep in mind that job loss and income reduction must not be the result of an intentional action on your part. For example, if you quit your job without good reason, the court may not choose to reduce your alimony obligation.
The court may also review whether you have other sources of income that can be applied toward spousal support payments. Suppose you have other income streams, such as investments, that could help cover your alimony payments. In that case, the court may make them part of your obligation instead of modifying the ordered alimony amount.
Ultimately, the court wants you to meet your obligations, and it may be willing to work with you to find a resolution that works for both parties. Being honest and open with the court when you cannot pay is vital to ensuring you arrive at the best possible position.
What Happens if You Can’t Pay Alimony? Seek Help From Texas Family Law Attorneys
While the idea of a contempt of court charge can be daunting, it is possible to avoid jail time and other penalties. With the help of a qualified family law attorney at Parker & Aguilar, you can take swift and strategic action to seek a fair resolution to your alimony issue.
When you contact us, we will listen to your story and take the time to understand your unique situation. We’ll then help you determine the best course of action to protect your rights and work toward a favorable outcome. We understand that no two situations are the same, so we’ll take a customized approach to your case every step of the way.
If you cannot pay alimony due to job loss or another major change in your standard of living, we can argue to the court that the original order should be modified. By presenting evidence of your current circumstances, we can demonstrate your inability to pay. We’ll also help you negotiate a reasonable payment amount to your ex-spouse based on your new financial situation.
Don’t wait until it’s too late. And please don’t try to take the matter into your own hands. Reach out to us today to learn more about our legal support.
We currently support clients in Fort Bend County, Brazoria County, Galveston, and Matagorda County. If you live in one of these counties, contact us today to start with an initial consultation.
You can reach us at 979-267-7660 (Angleton office) or 281-944-5485 (Sugar Land office) to discuss what happens if you can’t pay alimony. We look forward to assisting you with your situation.