In Family Law, We Have Done It All

Spousal Maintenance-Making Sure it gets Paid

Making Sure it gets Paid.  An order to pay maintenance typically requires an obligor spouse to make monthly payments to the other spouse (or domestic partner). Payments are often made directly to the spouse, i.e. by check or money order (one should never pay by cash), or by automatic withdrawal and deposit into a spouse’s account. Alternatively, maintenance may be paid, or collected by, the Washington State Support Registry.

What can be done if maintenance is not paid? Maintenance, like child support, is an obligation imposed by court order. As with any order that is intentionally ignored, or any obligation/debt that isn’t paid — there are things you can do.

File a Motion for an Order on Contempt. When an obligor spouse fails to follow a support order requiring the payment of maintenance, the other spouse may enforce that order in a contempt hearing. This is a very powerful mechanism to force an obligor spouse to comply. It must be shown that the obligor spouse disobeyed the order of support, or is “in contempt” of the order. If found in contempt, the court may require the obligor spouse to pay current and back support owed, enter a judgement for any unpaid amounts, and require the obligor spouse to pay the other spouse’s attorney fees and costs in bringing the action. A court may also order the jail time. See, RCW 7.21.030.

State Enforcement Services. The Department of Child Support (DCS) provides collection and enforcement services for child support and maintenance obligations. See, WAC 388-14A-1030. DCS may enforce a maintenance obligation, and collect on back-due payments, as long as DCS is also providing collection services on a current child support order at the same time. The order regarding maintenance must require that the payments be made to the Washington State Support Registry.

Liens, Garnishment and Other Remedies. A myriad of remedies (in common law, by statute and by equity) can be used to enforce a maintenance order. You may need the help of a collections attorney to pursue these remedies. Procedures must be strictly followed. Typical remedies sought include liens and the garnishment of earnings to pay maintenance owed. When a judgment in the amount of back-due maintenance is entered against the obligor spouse, a lien may be created to secure that amount. The lien must cite specific property upon which to attach. A judgment for unpaid maintenance should be entered before earnings may be garnished, as well.

Insure the Maintenance Obligation. Maintenance may be secured by a life insurance policy on the life of the obligor spouse. This is particularly appropriate if the premature death of the obligor spouse would leave the other spouse and their children in dire financial straits, or because a substantial back-due amount may likely be left behind. An obligor spouse may be required to obtain a new policy, or maintain an existing one on his/her own life. Typically, the other spouse would be named as beneficiary.

Consult with our experienced attorneys to find out how to enforce your order for spousal maintenance.

Authored by Catherine G. Victorino