What should you do if you are unable to meet your alimony obligations?

Alimony is an allowance to a former spouse and children as a contribution to maintenance. The person who has to pay alimony is also referred to as the maintenance debtor. The recipient of alimony is often referred to as the person entitled to maintenance. Alimony is an amount that you have to pay on a regular basis. In practice, alimony is paid monthly. You owe alimony if you have a maintenance obligation towards an ex-partner or your child. A maintenance obligation towards your ex-partner arises if he or she is unable to provide for himself or herself. Circumstances may prevent you from paying alimony to your ex-partner. Your income may have changed due to, for example, the Corona crisis. What is the best way to act if you have an obligation to pay alimony that you cannot meet?

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Maintenance obligation

First of all, it is wise to contact the maintenance creditor, your ex-partner. You can let them know that your income has changed and that you are unable to meet the maintenance obligation. You can try to reach an agreement. For example, you can agree that you will meet the obligation later or that the alimony will be reduced. It is best to have these agreements recorded in writing. If you need help with this, because you may not be able to come to an agreement together, you can call in a mediator to make good agreements.

If it is not possible to reach agreements together, it should be verified whether the maintenance obligation has been confirmed by the court. This means that the maintenance obligation has been officially laid down by the court. If the obligation has not been confirmed, the maintenance creditor will not be able to enforce the payment so easily. In that case there is no legally directly enforceable judgment by the court. A collection agency, such as the LBIO (Landelijk Bureau Inning Onderhouddsbijdragen), cannot collect the money. If the obligation is legally enforceable, the maintenance creditor must act as quickly as possible. The person entitled to maintenance can then initiate a collection to seize, for example, your income or your car. If you want to avoid this, it is wise to seek legal advice from a lawyer as soon as possible.

Subsequently, an enforcement dispute can be initiated in summary proceedings. This procedure is also known as an urgent procedure. In this procedure you ask the judge to deprive the maintenance creditor of the possibility to enforce a payment. In principle, the judge will have to respect the maintenance obligation. However, if there is a financial need that arose after the maintenance decision, there may be an abuse of law. Exceptions to the maintenance obligation may therefore be made in special cases. The Corona crisis may be a reason for this. It is best to have this assessed by a lawyer.

You can also try to change the alimony. If you expect the financial problems to last longer, that is a realistic choice. You will then have to start a procedure to change the maintenance obligation. The amount of alimony can be changed if there is a ‘change of circumstances’. This is the case if your income has changed significantly after the judgment of the maintenance obligation.

Unemployment or debt settlement are usually not permanent situations. In such cases, the judge may temporarily reduce your maintenance obligation. The judge can also decide that you do not have to pay anything. Do you choose to work less or even stop working? Then this is your own decision. The judge will then not agree to an adjustment of your obligation to pay alimony.

It may also be the case that you pay child support and/or spousal support when a judge has never been involved. In that case, you can, in principle, stop or reduce alimony payments without this having any direct consequences for you. This is because your ex-partner does not have an enforceable title and therefore cannot take any collection measures and seize your income or assets. What your ex-partner can do in this case, however, is submit a petition (or have a writ of summons filed) to ask for the maintenance agreement to be fulfilled/revoked.

Regardless of whether or not a maintenance obligation has been sanctioned by the court, our advice remains: don’t stop paying all of a sudden! First consult with your ex-partner. If this consultation does not lead to a solution, you can always start legal proceedings before the court.

Do you have questions about the alimony or do you want to apply for, change or stop the alimony? Then please contact Law & More. At Law & More we understand that the divorce and subsequent events can have far-reaching consequences on your life. That is why we take a personal approach. Together with you and possibly your ex-partner, we can determine your legal situation during the meeting on the basis of the documentation and try to look at your vision or wishes with regard to (the (re)calculation of) the alimony and then record them. In addition, we can assist you in a possible alimony procedure. The lawyers at Law & More are experts in the field of family law and are happy to guide you, possibly together with your partner, through this process.

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