Enforcing Alimony in Illinois
Former spouses who receive alimony, or maintenance, are often cast by society as greedy and lazy, using this support to avoid becoming employed and self-sufficient. What many people fail to understand is that alimony is rarely a permanent form of financial assistance, and the vast majority of recipients need that money in the short-term to get their lives in order after a divorce. Recipients count on this money as a major part of meeting financial obligations, and suffer huge detriments when it is not paid.
Payors sometimes feel resentful over this obligation, and some choose to sidestep the responsibility by failing to pay the required amount. Alimony awards are legally enforceable, and the party denied rightful payment has the ability to petition a Court to force compliance. Usually, any penalties associated with violations are limited to additional financial outlay; however, in more extreme cases, criminal charges are possible.
The former head of the Chicago Board of Trade, Patrick Arbor, fled the country five months ago to avoid paying the alimony and property settlement award ordered in a divorce from his wife of 17 years, and was recently arrested by Boston Police when he re-entered the country, though quickly released when Illinois authorities declined to extradite him. While the circumstances of this case are somewhat outside the norm, it does illustrate seriousness of flouting Court-ordered obligations.
The most essential point of seeking enforcement of an alimony award is the need to be proactive, and avoid procrastinating the pursuit of the overdue money. The larger the amount in arrears, the harder collecting the money in a timey manner typically becomes. Thus, when alimony stops coming, the affected party should consult with an attorney as soon as possible about filing a petition for enforcement. Assuming the non-payment is found to be intentional, and not based upon an inability to meet this financial obligation, a Court can issue a money judgment and order any of the following remedies:
- The addition of interest to the overdue amount;
- An award for attorney’s fees and Court costs to pursue enforcement;
- Garnishment of wages, bank accounts, or tax returns; or
- Issue a Qualified Domestic Relations Order that permits the payee to access the obligated party’s retirement or pension benefits to collect the unpaid amount.
In addition, the payee can pursue civil contempt charges that typically require the obligated party to pay some or all of the overdue amount to avoid jail time, though incarceration in these instances is rare.
In addition, and while ultimately up to a state prosecutor’s discretion, one’s attorney can file a verified complaint to start the criminal process. The crime of failure to pay support can be charged as a Class A misdemeanor or Class 4 felony. In either instance, the failure to pay must be proven as willful and a long-standing pattern of non-payment established. Specifically, the misdemeanor offense applies if alimony is in arrears for at least 6 months or exceeds $5,000, and if convicted, subjects the payor to possible jail time, fines and restitution.
The felony offense comes into play if the payor did one of the following:
- Fled the state to avoid paying;
- Is in arrears for more than one year;
- Owes more than $20,000; or
- Has failed to pay support for a second time.
The felony offense, being a more serious crime, brings longer sentences, higher fines, and full restitution — likely at higher interest rates.
Speak with an Illinois Family Law Attorney
Alimony is not optional income for most people and should be vigorously pursued when your ex-spouse stops paying. Skilled Hoffman Estates family law attorney Nicholas W. Richardson understands the stress of not receiving the support you need to meet your obligations and will fully pursue all legal options to get you the money you deserve. Contact the office for a free initial consultation.