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Enforcement of Alimony
My ex-husband refuses to pay me any alimony as required by our divorce settlement. What steps can I take to enforce the payment of my alimony?

There are many reasons why an ex-husband could fall behind on his alimony payments. He may have lost his job, suffered medical problems, his business could have collapsed, or he simply does not have the energy that he once had to "scrap up" the money to pay you. In many cases, the animosity between ex-spouses is so great, that many potential clients advise me that they would rather go to jail than pay alimony. Nonetheless, if you blow off your alimony obligations, then this is a violation of a court order, and you will be held in contempt of court.

If your ex-husband refuses to pay you alimony, then simply begging him to pay is not the answer. You will have to file a motion to enforce the payment of your alimony. This type of motion is called a contempt motion, an enforcement motion, or a motion to enforce litigants' rights. You can request some very "heavy" type of penalties in these types of motions. You can request that alimony should be garnished, you could request that your ex-husband's professional license(s) be revoked, you can request that his weapon permit or hunting and fishing license be revoked, you could request a writ of execution on his bank accounts, finally you could even request that the court send your ex-husband to jail. Finally, you should also seek counsel fees from your ex-husband for the fees incurred in filing the motion.

What other steps can I take to collect my back due alimony payment?

There are many legal remedies that you can pursue to collect your alimony arrears. Some of the most common remedies include:

  • Contempt: If an ex-husband fails to pay alimony then you can file a motion to have him held in contempt of court. If you file a contempt motion then you should also request that the court incarcerate your ex-husband until he pays off your alimony arrears. In the majority of cases the judge will not incarcerate your ex-husband in jail at the first contempt hearing. However, if your ex-husband continually "blows off" court orders to pay alimony arrears, then he will eventually be picked up by a County Sheriff and locked up in the County Jail. You would be surprised at how quickly some of your alimony arrears are paid off once an ex-husband is locked up. Typically, your ex-husband's new wife, his girlfriend, mother or father, brother or sister, or friend will pay off some of the alimony arrears and get the deadbeat ex-husband out of jail. If possible you should only use the "jail" card as a last resort. However, it is like using a "nuclear weapon" in family court, and if your ex-husband does not get the message that you are serious about getting paid, then you have to "do what you have to do."
  • Wage Execution: Alimony should always be garnished. I always advise my clients to have all alimony payments garnished. If alimony is paid directly by your ex-husband than many problems could arise. First, it may be very difficult to keep track of your payments. If alimony is garnished then Probation keeps track of all of the payments, and if there are any arrears due and owing. Second, you don't have to beg your ex-husband to pay the alimony each and every week. If alimony is garnished then the payment is taken automatically from your ex-husband's paycheck or pension check. Once a wage garnishment is in place it works like magic, and you will receive your alimony payment like clock work. However, if your ex-husband should lose his job then of course the wage execution will stop and you won't receive any more alimony.

    If your husband is retired, then you could always file an application to garnish your alimony payments from his social security check or from any pension payments if he has any.
  • Writ of Execution: If your ex-husband owes you big bucks in past due alimony arrears then you could try to seize his assets. If you know where your ex-husband has his bank accounts, CD's, stocks, mutual funds, then you could file an enforcement motion and request that the court issue a writ of execution and seize his assets. The trick on this type of request is to know where your ex-husband keeps his money.
  • Judgment and Interest: If your ex-husband owes you substantial alimony arrears then you could request that the court enter a money judgment against him. If the court grants this type of request then the judge will enter a money judgment against him for the amount of the arrears and interest and counsel fees. A judgment will constitute a lien on any real estate that your ex-husband owns. Moreover, a judgment will ruin your ex-husband's credit report. If you obtain a judgment on your ex-husband this will certainly give him incentive to "come clean" with you and to pay up.
  • Attorney's Fees: Finally, in any enforcement motion to collect alimony arrears you should always request counsel fees. In the majority of cases the court will grant this request. If your ex-husband is required to pay you $2,000 for counsel fees, he certainly will think twice next time he wants to blow off your alimony payments.

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In order for permanent alimony to be awarded in New Jersey, the marriage must have lasted at least 10 years and one spouse must have become economically dependent on the other. This type of alimony allows the obligee to maintain the lifestyle to which he or she has become accustomed for the duration of the obligor's lifetime (unless the obligee remarries).
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