Keith B. Schulefand, Esq.
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What happens if a spouse stops paying maintenance

Spousal maintenance (aka alimony) is less common these days with dual income families being the norm. Having a spouse who stops paying is nevertheless one problem that still occurs from time to time. A spouse can request a modification based on changing circumstances, such as declining health or a job switch. But both sides must agree if the arrangement is to be altered. In other words, one side can’t simply stop paying.

Penalties for not paying

Spouses subject themselves to a variety of potential problems if they opt not to pay. These include:

  • Those who do not make child or spousal support payments here in New York can lose their driver’s license.
  • The court may hold the spouse in civil contempt of court, particularly if there is no explanation forthcoming for not paying.

If the courts get involved

The court holds a hearing where it is recommended that each side hire legal counsel, or the court can appoint counsel. If the court finds that the spouse has no money or means to pay maintenance, the judge likely will not punish the spouse. However, if the court finds that the spouse willingly withholding funds, this can be criminal contempt of court. If this is the case, several things can happen:

  • They can be fined additional money
  • They can be sentenced to jail
  • They will have to pay attorneys’ fees
  • They will still owe all the money outlined in the original arrangement

Communication is the key

The smart approach is to communicate with the other side and see if the dispute can be resolved between the lawyers, perhaps with the aforementioned modification. Short of that, explaining circumstances to the judge will potentially help, but it is smart either way to consult with an attorney. The biggest and most expensive mistake is to simply not paying maintenance. An attorney with experience in family law can provide guidance regarding your dispute and perhaps help you to make a reasonable modification.

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