When an order is entered by the Court, the parties to the action are required to comply with its terms. Failure to comply with a Court Order will result in a Motion for Contempt filed against you. If the court finds that your disobedience of the Order is willful, you will be held in contempt, you will probably face additional financial penalties and you could even go to jail!
Here’s an example. You were divorced two years ago. Pursuant to the Final Judgment and Decree, you were ordered to pay $2,000.00 per month in alimony for five years which would terminate if your spouse died, remarried or engaged in a meretricious relationship. For two years you were able to make the payments until you had a sudden, significant loss in income and the $2,000.00 per month payments became impossible. You just cannot pay. So, you stop making payments.
Your difficulty or inability to make these payments does not relieve you of your court ordered obligation. You are still required to comply with the terms of the order. You still owe the money. Although inability to pay may be a defense, just stating that you cannot afford the payments is not nearly enough. You must show that you have exhausted every source and made a diligent effort to comply with the Court’s order. You cannot just stop making payments.
So what can you do?
If you find that you are unable to meet your court ordered obligations, your first step is to seek a modification. Contact an attorney to determine whether your obligation is modifiable. For example, note the language that I used for the alimony provision above: “$2,000.00 per month in alimony for five years which would terminate if your spouse died, remarried or engaged in a meretricious relationship”. The specific conditions at the end make this alimony modifiable. If the provision in my example was $2,000.00 per month in alimony for five years, then this would not be modifiable.
Just remember, if you are court ordered to pay alimony, child support, attorney’s fees or any other financial obligation and you find that you are unable to meet your obligations, your first course of action is to seek a modification if one is available. Call an attorney to find out! Pay what you can. Do not stop making payments. Even if the court finds that you are not in contempt you will still be obligated to pay what you owe. At least if you seek a modification, you can possibly reduce your future payment obligations.
“But I can’t pay!” Unfortunately, this does not negate the fact that you are court ordered to pay. Modification is the answer. Ignoring your obligation is a costly mistake.
Don’t make it!