Most Californians who have endured the emotional stress of a divorce heave a profound sigh of relief when the proceeding is finished and the court has entered its final order. Unfortunately, any expectation of future tranquility can be dashed by the refusal of one of the parties to obey the terms of the court’s order. One of the most common areas of future dispute is the failure of one spouse to pay court-ordered support payments to the other spouse. Sometimes, this refusal merely a reflection of the straitened circumstances of the payor spouse, and in other cases, the refusal is a deliberate attempt by the payor spouse to inflict financial and emotional harm on the payee spouse. Fortunately for ex-spouses who are the beneficiaries of orders for spousal support, the laws of California provide several ways to enforce the court’s order for support.
In many cases, the couple had minor children at the time of the divorce, and the spouse entitled to receive support can invoke the assistance of the Local Child Support Agency to impose collection measures. In cases where no LCSA is involved, the payee spouse may need to start a collection action.
The spouse who is claiming arrears must prove the amount that the other spouse was ordered to pay, the timing of each payment, and the number of payments that are in arrears. With this information in hand, the payee spouse can file a motion asking the court to issue an earnings assignment. This document, which is very similar to a wage garnishment, gives the payee spouse the right to force the employer of the payor spouse to pay a portion of the payor spouse’s wages or salary directly.
Any dispute about the amount of the arrearages or which payments have been missed can be resolved by the court. The payee spouse can also ask the court to issue an order directing the payor spouse to pay all interest due (at the rate of 10% per year).
What if the payor spouse resists collection efforts?
Occasionally, the assistance of a divorce attorney is required to compel payment of both spousal and child support. An experienced attorney can assist the payee spouse in completing the documents necessary to bring the matter before the judge and can pursue other collections actions as necessary. If the payor spouse insists on resisting the court order directing payment of the arrearages, an attorney can seek other, more serious sanctions, such as a finding of contempt of court.