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How to Handle an Inability to Pay Alimony or Child Support


As this post is being written, the federal government is shut down for business. Hundreds of thousands of government workers are working without pay, at least temporarily. That not only affects those workers, but also those who depend on their income for support—including any ex- spouses who receive alimony or children who receive child support.

Temporary Economic Hardship

Of course, unemployment or financial difficulty can hit anyone, not just federal workers during a government shutdown. That begs the question of what the right thing to do is should you face an economic problem that prevents you from being able to fulfill your support obligations.The worst thing you can do is nothing at all, and the best thing you can do is communicate as soon as the problem arises. If you simply do not pay, and your spouse takes you to court, you could face fines and even suspension of your driver’s license.

Communication and Honesty

Communicating financial problems early will also allow your ex spouse to at least mitigate any damages. For example, assume you are responsible for paying the mortgage of the home that your ex and your children live in. If you are honest about the problem as early as possible, your spouse may be able to pay the mortgage temporarily, or at least, contact the bank and inform them.

If you wait and simply don’t pay the mortgage, the home could end up going into foreclosure, and a family law court could order you to pay what is needed to bring the mortgage current again.

It should also go without saying that you should be honest. If you are unemployed, that is not hard to verify. But if you are self employed and claiming a financial hardship, expect for your ex to want proof, and you should be able to provide it to him or her.

Modifying Support Orders

You may be wondering why you can’t just go to court and ask that your child support or alimony payment be modified. In most cases, modification depends on your circumstance being permanent, and a temporary layoff will usually not qualify as permanent.

Of course, if it does—for example, if you suffered a permanent injury that will forever prohibit you from working in the field you have always worked—then seeking court intervention as soon as possible is the best option.

Your unemployment status must also be involuntary. That means you cannot quit your job or even be fired for cause, and then expect to be relieved of support obligations.

Ultimately, the best you can do is be honest and be as proactive as possible. A court can order you to pay if you do not meet your obligations but cannot put someone in jail without showing that there is an ability to pay a given amount.

Problems paying support or receiving it from an ex spouse? Our Tampa family law attorneys at The Pawlowski//Mastrilli Law Group can help you handle these problems as well as explore options for modifying divorce support orders.

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