5 Reasons Alimony Payments Stop (And What You Can Do About It)

Alimony is the court-ordered money that a person pays to their spouse during or after a divorce. Alimony flows from the partner with the greater earning potential to the partner with little or no earning potential.

In the past, alimony was a permanent payment interrupted only by death or by the remarriage of the recipient spouse. Today, alimony is commonly interrupted or modified for a variety of reasons.

Using Christine as a hypothetical alimony recipient, we’ll describe Christine’s legal options in five common situations when the payments stopped.

Situation 1:

Christine has full custody of two school-aged children. She receives both alimony and child support from her ex-husband. The ex-husband is consistent with child support payments, but stops paying alimony after a few years. Because Christine relies on alimony to pay the bills, her financial situation deteriorates rapidly.

Alimony is a legal obligation. The paying spouse can’t walk away from the legal obligation without suffering legal consequences.

Christine should consult her family attorney to explore her options. Her attorney will likely advise her to follow a course of action that includes the following steps:

  • Contact the paying spouse directly. If the spouse has reasonable grounds for missing payments (disability, job loss, etc.), a judge may temporarily reduce alimony payments in order to make long-term compliance more likely.
  • If the paying spouse refuses to make payments without reasonable grounds, the spouse may be subjected to contempt charges, jail time, and a court record. A judge may also order that the paying spouse’s property (including bank accounts) be seized in order to continue making payments.
  • In some cases, a judge may have alimony payments taken directly from one spouse’s paychecks and deposited in the other spouse’s bank account.

Situation 2:

Christine’s divorce lawyer contacts her ex-spouse and alimony payments start flowing regularly again. Christine’s personal situation stabilizes, and she starts dating someone new. Christine’s ex hears about the new relationship and stops paying alimony again, saying that the new man in Christine’s life should be willing to step up and help her financially.

Dating someone new does not release an ex-spouse from the legally-binding divorce contract. If Christine’s ex-husband refuses to pay alimony because she is dating someone new, she should contact her divorce lawyer and enforce compliance.

On the other hand, if Christine’s ex-husband begins dating someone new, or remarries, he is still legally obligated to continue paying alimony to Christine.

Situation 3:

Christine’s new relationship is going well. Feeling leery about marriage after her first relationship ended in divorce, Christine considers moving in with her boyfriend instead of marrying him. On a tip-off from a friend, she decides to consult her divorce lawyer before making the move.

Christine is smart to explore the possible financial consequences of her new relationship. A divorce lawyer can explain the financial consequences of Christine’s decision to cohabitate or remarry.

In accordance with Utah’s divorce laws, Christine will no longer have the right to collect alimony payments from her ex-husband once she remarries. If Christine’s ex-husband is behind on alimony payments at the time of Christine’s marriage, a judge will require that the back-payments be paid in full, even after the new marriage is finalized.

The legal term for “moving-in-with-someone” is “cohabitation.” In Utah, alimony commitments end when the receiving-spouse begins cohabiting with a romantic partner, but the termination of alimony is not automatic. In cases of cohabitation, the termination of alimony needs to be signed off by a judge.

If Christine moves in with her boyfriend, her ex-husband would be legally obligated to continue alimony payments until he (or his lawyer) goes to court and asks a judge for an order to stop payments. He will need to provide evidence that Christine’s relationship is a cohabitation. Evidence may include photographs of cars on the driveway at night or the termination of one of the cohabitors previous rental agreement.

Situation 4:

Christine decides not to move in with her boyfriend, choosing to postpone any big commitment that might jeopardize the stability that she enjoys with her children. Meanwhile, Christine’s ex-husband has injured his back at work. His doctor has put him on partial disability, so he’s decided to retire early. He claims that between his disability status and his retirement, he won’t have to pay alimony anymore.

Besides death or remarriage, only a few other situations might justify a change in alimony payments.
Situations that may justify such a change in alimony payments include:

  • Retirement
  • Disability
  • Bankruptcy or unemployment
  • Increase in income

If the economic situation of either spouse changes drastically, a change in alimony might be warranted. Either spouse may file a court request for a judge to alter the divorce settlement and change the alimony amount.

Situation 5:

Christine’s ex-husband moves to a remote location for retirement. Without explanation, his alimony payments stop arriving. When Christine’s ex-husband continues to disregard communication, Christine’s lawyer hires a private investigator. The ex is tracked to another state where he has died in an automobile accident.

If her ex dies, Christine has no way to legally collect alimony. Even if the deceased spouse has left cash or assets behind at the time of death, these assets will not be converted into alimony payments unless such payments have already been stipulated in a will or in the divorce decree.

If either spouse dies, the divorce contract ends along with all financial commitments. Alimony obligations stop immediately if either Christine, or her ex, were to die.

Fortunately, Christine planned ahead. With the security of her school-age children in mind, Christine had taken out a life insurance policy on both herself and her ex. When her ex dies, she receives the proceeds of the life insurance policy to provide for herself and her children.

If either the paying-spouse or the recipient-spouse dies, alimony payments stop immediately.

For many divorced couples, alimony payments remain the same for many years. However, in other relationships it may be necessary to reevaluate the need for or amount of alimony being paid. Death, remarriage, cohabitation, disability, or a dramatic increase in income may all necessitate changes. If you are unsure if your alimony payments should be stopped or if they stopped unexpectedly, consult with a Salt Lake alimony attorney. They can answer your questions and help ensure payments are made in a timely manner.

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