Enforcement of Alimony Orders
What if Alimony Payments are not Being Paid?
It is not uncommon to find yourself in a situation where your ex has stopped making alimony payments. What should you do to collect alimony? What are your options in this scenario? As with orders for child support in Georgia, orders mandating that one ex-spouse pay alimony to the other ex-spouse may be enforced by either a contempt action or via garnishment and automatic wage deductions. According to Georgia law, all orders, judgment and decrees commanding the payment of temporary or permanent alimony may be enforced by an action for contempt against the non-paying party. See Kay v. Vaughan, 24 Ga. 875; Glover v. Glover, 160 Ga. 422 128 (1925). We will cover the 3 options that you have for non-payment of alimony in more detail below.
Options for Enforcing Alimony Payments
Income Deduction Order (IDO)
Whenever one party to an alimony order is not in compliance, the other party may file a Complaint for Contempt in the same court that issued the alimony order. But, before an obligated spouse can be found in contempt, he or she must willfully refuse to obey the court's order to pay alimony. If the spouse charged with contempt shows the court that he or she is not willfully refusing to pay alimony but is unable to pay alimony as the result of job loss or other reasons, that spouse will not be found in willful contempt. If the spouse is found in contempt, the court has the power to enforce its order by putting the non-complying spouse in jail until he or she comply. Although it may seem counterintuitive to imprison an individual for failure to pay alimony, Georgia law provides that a person found in contempt for failing to pay alimony may be sentenced to a diversion program so that he or she may continue to work although imprisoned. O.C.G.A. §15-1-4(c). Even if the obligated spouse is not found to be in willful contempt of court, the court may still issue a judgment against that spouse for the amount that he or she is in arrears. This judgment will allow the recipient spouse or his or her attorneys to file a garnishment against the obligated spouse's wages or bank account to collect the money owed.
Another avenue that may be taken by a spouse who is owed alimony is to seek to have a garnishment of wages or income deduction order put into place against the obligated spouse. Garnishments often prove to be a faster and less expensive way to collect support than initiating a contempt proceeding. Normally, garnishments operate by attaching the earnings of the obligated spouse before he or she receives compensation from his or her employer. If the obligated spouse is in arrears on paying his or her alimony, the garnishment for support will continue until the obligation is current. Any payments received will first be applied to the current month's obligation and any surplus payments will reduce the arrears owed. Despite the amount of alimony owed however, Georgia law only allows up to 50% of the obligated spouse's net income to be garnished in order to satisfy an alimony obligation.
Income withholding or income deduction orders are similar to garnishments in that they deduct the amount necessary to satisfy the spousal support payment directly from the obligated spouse's income. In fact, in Georgia, all new or newly amended alimony orders are subject to income deduction orders automatically. Essentially, in every case involving an order of alimony, the court will contemporaneously enter an income deduction order as well, and this income deduction order will continue to apply until the alimony obligation is exhausted. O.C.G.A. § 19-6-32(a). However, under certain circumstances, a court will not automatically enter in income deduction order. Normally, if the parties agree that an income deduction order is not necessary, a court will not enter one. But, if the obligated spouse ever fails to pay his or her alimony, the recipient spouse may subsequently seek an income deduction order.