If you make court-ordered alimony (spousal support) payments, you must maintain the payment schedule whether or not you are unemployed. Even if you and your former partner have a verbal agreement, and s/he agrees to take a reduced payment, you must continue making the payment in full until a new court order has been issued.
The California Family Law Courts state:
Unless the judge signs a new court order, the existing spousal or partner support amount and order will not be changed. So, to protect yourself, even if you have a verbal agreement with your spouse/domestic partner to change the spousal or partner support amount, put it in writing and have a judge sign it. That way you have a current spousal or partner support order that reflects the current amount.
A court order translates to a legal obligation, and failure to meet that obligation can have severe consequences (see below). Continue making full spousal support payments until a family law court orders an alimony modification or otherwise.
As with child support, the court expects you to pay the full amount of your court-ordered payment whether you are working or not. In fact, family law courts typically view unemployment as a temporary situation. They view your education, training, prior work history, the average of your last 12-months of earning, and other pertinent details to establish your general earning potential.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most unemployed adults find a new job in about five to 15 weeks. As a result, the courts consider unemployment to be a short-term situation. If you are unemployed, the courts expect that you will be employed shortly as a result of your diligent job hunting attempts, fueled in part by your legally enforced alimony payment obligations.
Even so, you should ask for a spousal support modification sooner rather than later in case a modification lowering or waiving your payments will be granted.
Applying For An Alimony Modification May Help
If you are actively looking for a job and have not found one, you can apply for an alimony modification of payment. This is also the case if your unemployment is due to something more serious than a typical job layoff. For example, if you are recently disabled or facing a diagnosis of terminal or chronic illness, you may be eligible for a spousal support payment modification.
We recommend working with a family law attorney who can provide you with legally sound advice while facilitating the payment modification process.
In California, you begin the process by completing and filing the following forms, available on the courts.ca.gov website:
- Request for Order (Form FL-300 “https://www.courts.ca.gov/documents/fl300.pdf”). You can use the Information Sheet for Request for Order (Form FL-300-INFO “https://www.courts.ca.gov/documents/fl300info.pdf”) for information to fill out FL-300
- Income and Expense Declaration (Form FL-150 “https://www.courts.ca.gov/documents/fl150.pdf”).
- If you are changing a spousal or partner support order made as part of your divorce or legal separation judgment, or after the judgment, it may be helpful for you to use the Spousal or Partner Support Declaration Attachment (Form FL-157 “https://www.courts.ca.gov/documents/fl157.pdf”). This form asks you to provide the information the judge will need to make a decision in your case, addressing all the factors the law tells the judge to consider when making decisions about long-term spousal or partner support. This form is optional, but even if you do not use it, you may want to take a look at it to make sure you understand what you will have to prove to the judge.
- Also, use a Declaration (Form MC-030 “https://www.courts.ca.gov/documents/mc030.pdf”) or an Attached Declaration (Form MC-031 “https://www.courts.ca.gov/documents/mc031.pdf”) if you need more space to explain why you believe a change in spousal or partner support is needed.
Again, we recommend having those forms reviewed by a family law facilitator. Even a one-time payment for their time will ensure the forms are filled out completely and correctly. Filing incomplete forms, or forms containing errors can result in the forms being kicked back to you – delaying the court date and potentially modified payment reductions. Finally, don’t forget to make two copies of the forms, one for you and one for your former spouse/partner.
Once the forms are completed and filed, you’ll move forward with additional steps for alimony modification, including:
- Getting an official court date
- Serving your former spouse or partner with the relevant forms
- Filing proof that your former spouse/partner has been served
- Attending your court hearing
Penalties For Failing To Pay Court-Ordered Spousal Support
The courts have a very clear format for penalizing individuals who are delinquent in paying alimony or child support payments, including reduced or missed payments. This includes:
- Wage garnishment
- Garnishment of tax returns
- Repayment plans with 10% interest tacked on (paid to your former spouse/partner)
- Suspension of your driver’s license
- Jail time
Again, a one-time consultation with a family law attorney can make all the difference in ensuring spousal support payments are fairly based on your current employment status and earnings, and to facilitate the modification process.
Contact the Law Offices of Gerald Falzone to schedule a free, 30-minute consultation or to schedule an appointment to discuss how your current unemployment situation could lower or waive alimony obligations.