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What happens if I fall behind on spousal support payments?

Individuals who have been ordered to pay spousal support in California may face serious consequences if they fall behind on payments. A person who fails to pay spousal support could potentially be charged with contempt of court and sent to jail. Criminal charges are generally used as a last resort, however, and other methods of collecting late spousal support payments will most likely precede a charge for contempt of court.

Once a person falls behind on spousal support payments, 10 percent interest will be added to the outstanding balance every year. The balance and the added interest must be paid to avoid further penalties, and charges for accrued interest cannot be wiped out by a later court ruling.

In some cases, a failure to pay spousal support will result in the payer having their wages garnished. The amount that is garnished will go towards paying off the spousal support that is past due, which is sometimes referred to as a 'liquidation amount." Even if the past due spousal support is being paid off in installments, the outstanding balance will still accrue interest at a rate of 10 percent each year.

A person who has fallen behind on alimony payments may wish to pursue a court order for spousal support modification. Although a new court order will not erase the outstanding balance, it could help to avoid further penalties. In some cases, an individual may wish to pay spousal support in a lump sum rather than in monthly installments so that the potential for late payments in the future is not an issue. Every person's financial situation is different, however, and the information in this blog is not legal advice.

Source: California Courts, "Changing Spousal or Partner Support", November 03, 2014

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