Do you know what steps to take if your former spouse misses a payment or fails to pay consistently?

Putting your family through a divorce is hard enough as it is. And when your former spouse makes late support payments—or fails to pay at all—it can put even more strain on an already challenging and emotional situation.

Because alimony and child support are determined by contracts enforced by a court, your spouse has a legal obligation to make these payments. However, this fact on its own is not always comforting when you need money right now and don’t want to get involved in another legal battle.

However, you must press ahead and do all you can to ensure that your former spouse will pay on time. When support is late, here are the steps you can and should take to get things moving and receive the compensation you are legally owed.

Find out the cause of the missed or late payment

Before taking any serious action, it’s a good idea to try to figure out what happened (if possible). For example, if the other party has suffered some kind of injury or lost their job, you could look at the situation a bit differently, even though they are still failing their obligation. This could mean the two of you could come to an agreement about how to resolve the situation, at least until the other person can go back to work.

This can also be a tricky situation, however. It’s possible that your former spouse is purposely trying to avoid making payments and is thus coming up with excuses—ones that may not end if you give them any leeway. This is why it’s a good idea to talk to an attorney, to document every communication you have, and to make sure the other person knows that you aren’t afraid to return to court if necessary.


Mediation is an option that avoids court. It can be a promising first step if this is isn’t a common or repeated behavior pattern from your ex-spouse. Mediation requires that a third party, a mediator, to intervene and act on behalf of both parties to come to an agreement. Attorneys may or may not be present.

This is often a good option if there isn’t a lot of conflict surrounding these issues (yet), and if both parties can be reasonable and come to a fair agreement. Mediation can also be an effective option if avoiding court fees and high emotions is a top priority. That said, it’s not free. And given payment issues, this may not make sense.

Engage an attorney and go back to court

A family law attorney can assist you if this difficult situation arises and mediation either isn’t an option or did not work. Your attorney can represent you when you return to family court, which will be the next step in receiving the alimony you’re owed. You’ll need to file a motion for contempt, and ask the court to enforce the order.

If you do return to court, remember that you’ll need to provide evidence of missed or late payments, and be prepared to explain to the judge about the hardship that these missing funds are causing you and your family.

Unfortunately, if your former spouse fails to pay on time again and again, you may have to press on to a solution in court. If it continues, a charge of contempt may be issued by the judge, and your former spouse will have to answer those charges. If the case gets this far, it’s possible that your former spouse will be ordered to pay for court costs, and they may even face additional fines or even jail time.

Filing a lawsuit

Another method to getting your former spouse to pay is to file a lawsuit wherein you make a complaint against them for failure to pay. The issue may go to trial if the other person, who then becomes the defendant, responds to the complaint by requesting a trial.

The thresholds vary by state, but these issues will either be in small claims court or a higher court depending on the amount of money you’re owed. And remember that in a lawsuit, a judge could dismiss your case and instead tell you to pursue your owed compensation through family or divorce court. Navigating spousal and child support problems is never easy. Fortunately, the Family Plan App can help families manage the legal process, scheduling, and payments all in one place. This leaves time for you to focus on what’s best for you and your children.