Will they come after me for unpaid alimony in a different state?
UPDATED: January 15, 2020
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When you fail to pay alimony in one state and then move to another state, your behavior will determine how the first state treats the matter. States vary on their rules regarding alimony. You should seek the advice of an experienced divorce, family law, or civil attorney regarding the consequences of failing to pay alimony.
If the first state sees you as delinquent in your payments, and in civil contempt of court, that state typically has the ability to fine you and issue a warrant for your arrest. If you have a driver’s license for the first state, that state may have the potential to suspend or revoke your driver’s license. If you have changed your driver’s license to the second state, the first state may communicate your failure to pay alimony to the second state.
The second state can then choose if it wants to suspend or revoke your driver’s license. Even if your divorce or family court case remains in dispute, it is a crime to drive on a suspended or revoked license. You can end up in jail on a criminal charge in the second state based on what happened in the first state.
It helps if you understand non-payment of alimony as an act that is separate from your divorce or family court case. When a judge or magistrate in divorce or family court rules that you must pay alimony, they have issued you an order. You must pay or you are in indirect civil contempt of court. In some states, you may be regarded as being in criminal contempt of court. It depends on the state’s statutes. Not paying alimony is the equivalent of saying to the divorce or family court judge, “I do not have to listen to you.”
In order to avoid penalties such as fines, incarceration, and the possible loss of your driver’s license, you need to stay in the good graces of your divorce or family court judge. The divorce or family court judge is the party who would institute a contempt case against you. Usually, a second judge will hear your contempt case.
If you have circumstances which do not allow you to pay alimony, such as extreme financial difficulties, make a formal showing of that to the divorce or family court. Provide paperwork, such as your credit report and your pay slips. Use formal written statements to explain why you are not making enough to pay alimony.
If your judgment in the divorce or family court case can be modified, ask for a hearing to modify your alimony payment. Prepare for your hearing by gathering documents to show the facts which reveal why your former spouse does not need the amount you were ordered to pay. Avoid displaying an attitude in court that makes your failure to pay seem intentional or malicious. Be efficient, organized, and courteous. Give the impression that you want the court to understand your side of the story.
Many people believe that if they don’t do X, Y will happen. Contempt of court cases do not work like this. The outcome of a contempt of court case depends in large part upon the personality and thought process of the judge. The judge has the discretion to vary the amount of the fine and the period of incarceration. The judge can also simply issue a warning. The maximum amount of the fine and the maximum period of incarceration are defined by state statutes.
Do not let a low maximum fine and a short maximum period of incarceration lead you to believe that these will be all you can face. If you continue on a course of disobeying the divorce or family court judge, the contempt judge can choose to regard each occurrence of non-payment or untimely payment as a separate act of contempt. Theoretically, you could spend years in jail and face multiple fines for not paying alimony. With this situation, you would also have a record of contempt cases.
One of the other penalties for incurring a contempt case is the court fees for the contempt case. If you lose a contempt case, you have to pay the court for its time. A judge has a right to issue a warrant for your arrest when you fail to pay court fees. If you fail to come to court for a contempt case, the judge is also likely to issue a warrant for your arrest. The reason is that you have now showed two judges disrespect: the first judge by your failure to pay, and the second judge by your failure to come to court.
When you ask, “Will one state come after me for unpaid alimony in another state?” this is a very case-specific question. If you have a criminal record, or a history of indirect civil contempt of court cases, it is more likely that the first state will issue a warrant for your arrest at some point. It is unlikely the second state would do anything in response to the first state issuing a warrant. The typical strategy of the first state is to wait for you to return to it. After you have come back to the first state, the first state will take you into custody.
States typically do not use their resources to find people in other states who are not paying alimony and have incurred indirect civil contempt of court charges. That is not to say they cannot and will not do so. In order to avoid such situations, work on keeping the matters related to divorce or family court in that court. Do not avoid your obligations by hiding. Work with an experienced attorney to resolve any disputes. Then you will appear to be handling your case well. The divorce or family court is likely not to find you in contempt.