What is the difference between alimony and child support?
When the parents of a minor child end their marriage or opt to live apart, the law imposes an obligation on both parents to continue financial support of the child until the child becomes an adult. If necessary, a court may order one parent to pay child support to the other.
Alimony is often referred to as spousal support or spousal maintenance. It is a legal obligation imposed on one spouse to continue financially supporting the other spouse after the marriage ends. Alimony is different from the division of debts and assets that is part of every divorce. Alimony is not awarded in every divorce and it comes in many forms:
- Rehabilitative alimony is intended to help one spouse complete education or training to re-enter the workforce following a divorce.
- Lump sum alimony is a one-time payment that corrects an imbalance in the division of assets. For example, if one spouse gets the marital residence in the divorce, that spouse may be ordered to pay alimony to the other spouse in an amount equal to half the equity in the property.
- Periodic alimony is commonly referred to as “long-term alimony” because it takes the form of monthly payments paid to a spouse until that spouse remarries or the court terminates the order.
When are my alimony or child support payments considered past due?
In most states, a child support payment is considered past due when it is 15 days late. Some states, however, impose strict deadlines for child support payments, where even one day late can result in penalties. On the other hand, alimony is typically not considered past due unless it is 30 days late. Habitual late payments, however, can lead to consequences.
State law governs many aspects of child support and alimony payments, but your Divorce Settlement Agreement could supersede state law, including when payments are due and the length of a grace period for late payments.
How do I collect overdue alimony?
It can be very frustrating when a former spouse is late with alimony payments. Going back to court over those issues is never appealing. Fortunately, you may be able to avoid going to court by sending your former spouse a Demand for Alimony Payment letter. This tells your former spouse three things:
- You know the payment is past due.
- You want to resolve the issue amicably.
- You will resort to legal action if alimony remains unpaid.
Send the letter by certified mail. If the alimony remains unpaid, you may want to ask a lawyer about your legal options.
How do I collect overdue child support?
When a parent gets behind on child support payments, it can feel overwhelming. Child support payments are often paid directly to the court through an income withholding order, so the delay may not be your ex-spouse’s fault. Sending a Demand for Child Support Payment letter before taking legal action allows your former spouse or child’s other parent the opportunity to fix the problem without involving lawyers or the court. If they do not respond or pay, it may be time to consider legal action to enforce the child support order.
What can I do if my former spouse refuses to pay after a court order?
If alimony is part of a Divorce Settlement Agreement or court order, failure to pay violates that court order or agreement.
If you get no response to a Demand for Alimony Payment letter, you may have to turn to the court for help. Depending on your state and local court rules, this may require filing documents with the court and requesting a hearing date. Courts typically set a date to permit both sides to address the past-due payment in person. If the court finds in your favor at or after the hearing, it has several options:
- A court can enter a new order for payment and add a monetary fine to the original amount, while imposing additional fines or even jail time or other consequences in the event of continued violations.
- A court may order the seizure of a debtor’s assets or property, or wage garnishment. Wage garnishment, or income withholding, is when the court directs an employer to send a percentage of your former spouse’s paycheck each pay period directly to you or the court for disbursement.
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This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.