My Spouse Won't Pay Alimony; What Can I Do? (A.K.A., How to Enforce an Utah Alimony Award)

So, you went through divorce and were awarded alimony.

That probably took some doing since no one wants to pay alimony. Men don't want to pay it because they don't want to pay their ex-wives to be their ex-wives. Women hate paying alimony to support a man they feel should get a job.

Now, despite the divorce decree that says you're owed $X per month in alimony, your ex refuses to pay. And, provided you aren't cohabiting or remarried, refusing to pay alimony is probably not justified.

What Can You Do?

If you find yourself in this situation, the questions become: What can I do? How can I make my ex follow the divorce decree and pay me?

While it would be nice if you could call the cops and have them tell your ex that if he doesn't pay, he'll go to jail, that's not how it works.

To enforce an alimony award, you have to file a motion for contempt (known as an order to show cause).

An order to show cause, at its core, is a document that lays out (1) what was written in your divorce decree (in this situation it would be what the decree says about paying alimony), and (2) how your ex has violated your divorce decree.

You're ex will have a chance to respond to your order to show cause. In other words, he or she will be able to explain either that alimony has been paid, or why it hasn't.

At that point, you'll have to go before the court (usually a commissioner, sometimes a judge) at a hearing, and each of you will have the chance to discuss things with the court.

If, during the hearing, you prove your ex hasn't paid, the Court has a wide array of punishments at its disposal to force payment. (To read a full list of those possible punishments, read here.)

The most common punishment includes requiring your ex to pay the attorney fees you paid for bringing the order to show cause.

When Should You File an Order to Show Cause?

People often come to me when they aren't getting alimony and ask, "When should I file an order to show cause?"

I wish I could tell people to file the moment they aren't paid on time, but it's not that simple.

Since you have to pay an attorney to file an order to show cause (even though you may get all your attorney fees back in the end), you shouldn't do it when your ex owes you $500. It just doesn't make sense at that low a number.

I usually counsel people to wait until your ex is $2500-$4000 behind on alimony. At that point, it makes sense to spend the money hiring an attorney. That and an arrearage that large shows the court there's a longstanding pattern of not paying (which means the court will be more likely to hand down harsher punishments).

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