To read this article directly on Forbes.com and/or to leave a comment, please click on this link: http://www.forbes.com/sites/jefflanders/2011/12/14/how-can-a-divorcing-woman-get-the-child-support-alimony-she-is-owed/
Even though child support and alimony payments are spelled out in explicit detail as part of divorce settlement agreements, most divorced women and children don’t receive the money they are owed.
In fact, according to the most recent statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau, less than half of the parents who are owed child support actually receive the full amount. About one-third receive only a portion of the total due, and nearly one-quarter receive none of the child support they are owed.
Alimony payment statistics are not available, but from what we’ve heard at Bedrock Divorce, it seems divorced women often have trouble receiving alimony payments in full, too.
Unfortunately, most exes –and yes, it’s typically ex-husbands –don’t honor the financial terms established in their divorce settlement agreements.
Is there anything that can be done to remedy this situation? Does a divorced woman have any recourse when her ex-husband refuses to pay child support and/or alimony?
The answers to those questions contain both good news and some not-so-good news. Let’s take a look at the good news first.
The remedies for payment of delinquent child support can be fairly straightforward. Under Title IV-D of the Social Security Act of 1975, each US state and territory must have an Office of Child Support Enforcement. Among their other responsibilities, these agencies can step in when notified that an ex is failing to make child support payments. The state can pursue a variety of actions on order to recover the support that is legally due. For instance, the state can:
- Garnish wages. The state can take money directly from the non-payor’s paycheck.
- Intercept certain funds. The state can withhold funds, such as tax refunds, unemployment insurance payments and workers’ compensation payments.
- Place a lien on vehicles or real estate owned by the non-payor.
- Administer a writ or execution. The non-payor’s property can be seized and sold to help make up for the delinquent payments.
- Suspend a passport or certain licenses. The non-payor’s passport and his driver’s license, professional license, recreational licenses, etc. can all be suspended.
- Notify credit bureaus. Delinquent child support can be viewed as unpaid debt and so, it can negatively affect the non-payor’s credit score.
- Prosecute criminally. Under certain circumstances, the non-payor can be criminally charged and potentially face jail time and fines.
A judge can order similar actions against an ex-husband who fails to pay alimony –but of course, you’ll have to go to court to prove the case against him. A judge can garnish his wages, suspend his licenses, etc., and although the specific consequences of failing to pay alimony vary from state to state, failing to pay alimony as outlined in a divorce agreement is always considered contempt of court. Disobeying a court order is a very serious offense, punishable by fines and/or jail time.
So, the good news is that there are a variety of legal remedies to help divorced women receive the child support and alimony payments they are owed.
Here’s the not-so-good news: It’s not easy to get an ex to pay.
I think most lawyers would agree that financial support (whether it’s child support or alimony) is the one area where most “games” are played by ex-husbands. Some hide assets. Others cheat on taxes or lie about their earnings.
Certainly, it’s generally easier to recover delinquent child support. As I mentioned, state agencies are in place to offer assistance so your children can get the support they are owed. However, these agencies are not responsible to help recover unpaid alimony.
Tips for recovering payments
What can you do to help increase your chances of recovering unpaid support?
For starters, take the advice of one of New York’s top divorce attorneys, Marilyn B. Chinitz, Partner at Blank Rome. Marilyn instructs her clients to keep meticulous records regarding the support that has been awarded to them.
Why? Because many fail in their attempts to collect payments due since they are unable to document the arrears owed. On the other hand, women who can document the support arrears owed with specificity and proof can take advantage of numerous enforcement remedies (as outlined above).
“In real estate it’s ‘location, location, location.’ In support collection, it’s ‘records, records, records,’” Marilyn says.
Here are a few specific suggestions:
- As part of your settlement, have your spouse sign an authorization permitting you to obtain his future credit reports.
- Keep receipts of the items that your spouse is obligated to pay, together with proof that you made payments for which you are entitled to obtain reimbursement.
- Maintain records of when you receive the support payment and the exact amount you received.
- You may have to turn into your own private investigator. Use the internet to uncover information about your ex-husband’s current lifestyle. Is he discussing recent acquisitions, travel, etc. on Facebook or other social media networks? You may find that he just acquired a new house or boat and is using your support payments to pay for his new acquisitions.
“Be tenacious in your investigation, and you will collect what you are owed,” Marilyn concludes.
In addition to these tips, Marilyn and I both agree that if you are facing divorce, your best defense will always be a good offense. To ensure the best possible outcome, build a qualified divorce team that can help you plan and execute a comprehensive strategy tailored to your individual needs.
For example, there are alternatives to traditional alimony payments, and if you’re divorcing, you should carefully consider each one. Since my firm exclusively represents women, it is our belief that an upfront lump sum payment in lieu of alimony is, in the vast majority of cases, the preferred option if the wife is to be the recipient of alimony. However, since the entire payment is made all at one time, an upfront lump sum payment requires reasoned, deliberate financial management. A divorce financial expert can help you make those calculations and design a plan that gives you solid financial footing now and in the future, as well.
Jeffrey A. Landers, CDFA™ is a Divorce Financial Strategist™ and the founder of Bedrock Divorce Advisors, LLC (http://www.BedrockDivorce.com ), a divorce financial strategy firm that exclusively works with women, who are going through, or might be going through, a financially complicated divorce.
He also advises happily married women who have seen their friends blindsided by a divorce initiated by their husbands and wonder (wisely) how financially vulnerable they’d be in that situation. Jeff developed the nation’s first Just in Case(TM): Secure Your Financial Future, a one-hour program, which quickly shows married women how to be prepared in the event of a future divorce with immediate, practical steps. He can be reached at Landers@BedrockDivorce.com.