Although child support and alimony are explicitly regulated under divorce agreements, most divorced women and children do not receive the money they are entitled to.
In fact, according to the latest statistics from the US Census Bureau, fewer than half of parents who have child support actually receive the full amount. Around a third only receive part of the total, and almost a quarter do not receive any child support they are entitled to.
Statistics on child support are not available, but from what we’ve heard at Bedrock Divorce, it appears that divorced women also often struggle to get child support in full.
Unfortunately, most ex-partners – and yes, they are usually ex-husbands – do not adhere to the financial terms set out in their divorce agreements.
Is there anything that can be done to correct this situation? Does a divorced woman have any legal remedies if her ex-husband refuses to pay alimony and / or alimony?
The answers to these questions contain both good news and some less good news. Let’s look at the good news first.
The remedies for late child support payments can be fairly straightforward. Under Title IV-D of the Social Security Act of 1975, every US state and territory must have an Office of Child Support Enforcement. Among other things, these agencies can step in when they are notified that an ex is not paying child support. The state can take various measures to reclaim the legal support. For example, the state can:
- Garnish wages. The state can take money directly from the non-payer’s paycheck.
- Catch certain funds. The state can withhold funds such as tax refunds, unemployment insurance payments, and workers’ compensation payments.
- Put a lien on vehicles or real estate owned by the non-payer.
- Manage a court decision or enforcement. The non-payer’s property can be confiscated and sold to make up for outstanding payments.
- Suspend a passport or certain licenses. The non-payer’s passport and driver’s license, professional ID, recreational license, etc. can all be suspended.
- Notify credit bureaus. Missed child support can be viewed as an unpaid debt and therefore can negatively affect the creditworthiness of the non-payer.
- Prosecute. In certain circumstances, the non-payer can face criminal prosecution and face imprisonment and fines.
A judge can order similar measures against an ex-husband who does not pay his alimony – but of course you will have to go to court to prove the case against him. A judge can seize their wages, suspend their licenses, etc., and although the specific consequences of failing to pay alimony vary from state to state, failure to pay alimony under a divorce settlement is always considered a disregard of the court. Failure to comply with a court order is a very serious crime that can result in fines and / or imprisonment.
So the good news is that there are a variety of legal remedies available to help divorced women receive child support and child support payments.
Here’s the not-so-good news: getting an ex to pay isn’t easy.
I think most lawyers would agree that financial support (be it child support or child support) is the only area where most of the “games” are played by ex-husbands. Some hide assets. Others cheat taxes or lie about their earnings.
Certainly, it is generally easier to reclaim child support in default. As mentioned earlier, government agencies offer support so that your children get the support they deserve. However, these agencies are not responsible for reclaiming unpaid alimony.
Tips for recovering payments
What can you do to increase your chances of receiving unpaid assistance?
First, take the advice of one of New York’s top divorce lawyers, Marilyn B. Chinitz, partner at Blank Rome. Marilyn instructs her clients to keep meticulous records of the assistance they receive.
Why? Because many fail when they try to collect payments that are due because they cannot prove that they are in arrears. On the other hand, women who can specifically and verifiably document the backlog of support owed can avail themselves of numerous enforcement remedies (as outlined above).
“When it comes to real estate, it means ‘location, location, location’. The support collection is called ‘records, records, records,’ ”says Marilyn.
Here are some specific suggestions:
- As part of your settlement, have your spouse sign a power of attorney that will allow you to receive their future credit reports.
- Keep receipts for items your spouse has to pay with evidence that you have made payments for which you are entitled to a reimbursement.
- Keep a record of when you received the benefit payment and the exact amount you received.
- You may need to turn yourself into your own private investigator. Use the internet to find information on your ex-husband’s current lifestyle. Does he discuss current acquisitions, trips, etc. on Facebook or other social networks? You may find that he has just bought a new house or boat and is using your alimony payments to pay for his new purchases.
“Be persistent in your investigation and you will collect what is yours,” concludes Marilyn.
In addition to these tips, Marilyn and I both agree that your best defense will always be a good offensive when facing a divorce. To achieve the best possible outcome, assemble a qualified divorce team to help you plan and implement a comprehensive strategy tailored to your individual needs.
For example, there are alternatives to traditional alimony, and if you are getting divorced you should consider each one carefully. Since my law firm only represents women, in our opinion, in the vast majority of cases, an advance payment as a maintenance advance is the preferred option if the wife is to be a dependent. However, since the entire payment is made at once, prepaying a lump sum requires sound and thoughtful financial management. A divorce finance professional can help you with these calculations and design a plan that will give you a solid financial foundation now and in the future.
Jeffrey A. Landers, CDFA ™ is a Divorce Financial Strategist ™ and founder of Bedrock Divorce Advisors, LLC (http://www.BedrockDivorce.com ), a divorce finance strategy firm that works exclusively with women who are going through or may go through a financially difficult divorce.
He also advises happily married women who have seen their friends be taken by surprise by their husbands divorce and who (wisely) wonder how at risk they would be in this situation. Jeff developed the nation’s first Just in case (TM): Secure your financial future, an hour-long program that quickly shows married women how to use immediate, hands-on steps to prepare for a future divorce. He can be reached at Landers@BedrockDivorce.com.
All articles / blog posts are for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. If you require legal advice, see a lawyer licensed in your jurisdiction. The opinions expressed are exclusively those of the author, who is not a lawyer.
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