Can Spousal Support be Garnished?

Preparing for Divorce - Organize Your Finances

As everyone with children knows, raising kids is a full-time job. Because it requires so much mental and physical energy, it’s not uncommon for one spouse to temporarily set aside career aspirations, and devote all his or her available attention to homemaking tasks. While this can be a great solution for some families, the downside is that the employability of the homemaker invariably suffers. 

To make up for these career sacrifices, California courts will often include a provision for spousal support in divorce orders. This money is meant to compensate a homemaker for their considerable, non-monetary contributions to the family, and aid them in getting back into the workforce. And, since it’s an official court order, refusing to pay spousal support could put you in dire straits. 

In California, spousal support can be garnished from wages. When this happens, your employer would be legally required to make payments before giving you your take home pay. Here’s a little bit more about how spousal support is garnished, some of the other consequences of not paying alimony, and why it’s really not a good idea to default on these payments. 


Determining Spousal Support in California

To start off, spousal support, or “alimony,” is by no means a foregone conclusion in divorce. In determining whether or not these funds are needed, California courts will review a number of different factors, some of which are: 

  • The standard of living in the marriage; 
  • Marketable skills of both spouses; 
  • How much the homemaker’s income has been impaired by unemployment; 
  • If the homemaker helped contribute to the career spouse’s education (and by how much);  
  • The homemaker’s ability to get employment without hurting the interests of dependent children; 
  • Obligations and assets of both parties (including separate property); and
  • How long the marriage lasted.

Since these situational factors differ from couple to couple, so does the need and amount of spousal support in each situation. A homemaker who is independently wealthy, for example, probably doesn’t need help getting back into the workforce—even if they took a significant amount of time off work. In contrast, a parent who has spent the entirety of the marriage helping his or her spouse build a career (at their own expense), would have a much greater need for spousal support upon divorce. 


Duration of Spousal Support

In California, a good rule of thumb is to assume spousal support will last half the duration of a marriage under ten years. So, if you were married eight years, you’ll probably be required to pay support for about four. If the marriage continued for six, then three years is a good estimate. 

For couples that endured longer than ten years, things become more unpredictable, and in these cases, it’s common for judges to order spousal support for an indeterminable amount of time. When this happens, the paying spouse would have the burden of proof to eventually show that funds were no longer needed. In general, however, “lifetime” support is quite rare, and payments usually only last as long as it takes for the homemaker to become self-sufficient. 


Collecting Spousal Support: Easement of Assignment What is Considered Income for Spousal Support - Earnings From Wages

Not only can spousal support be garnished from wages, but it’s actually standard procedure to do so. This is because in California, every order of spousal support comes pre-packaged with an Easement of Assignment, eliminating much of the collection hassle.

An Easement of Assignment—a fancy way of saying “wage garnishment”—is a legal document requiring a person’s employer to pay a certain amount of money to someone else, before giving them their take home pay. To activate your Easement of Assignment, simply fill out the necessary forms (including attachments), and turn them into the county clerk for signatures. Once the documents are returned, you can then serve them to your ex’s employer, who will then have ten days to begin taking out the necessary funds. 

This process might sound invasive, however, it’s actually quite efficient. By doing so, California courts not only decrease payor default, but also ensure that funds are available to the supported spouse regularly and on time—a win-win for both sides. 


Easement of Assignment Not Required

While convenient, California does not require spousal support to be garnished from wages. So long as neither party is on public assistance, payors can request that their Easement of Assignment be put on hold, until (if ever) it’s needed. This hold can always be reversed if necessary, so payors shouldn’t view this as a way to negate spousal support obligations. 


Help from Local Child Support Agency (LCSA)

Unfortunately, collecting spousal support isn’t always as easy as filing an Easement of Assignment—especially if your ex doesn’t have full-time employment. While it’s always possible to recover funds on your own, the time, expense, and headache might not be worth the effort, especially when someone else can do it for you. 

In California, the Local Child Support Agency (LCSA) can help you recoup unpaid or delinquent support payments. Their services are available for both spousal support and child support at no charge to you, and aside from being free, the benefit of using the LCSA, is that they have many resource at their disposal that aren’t available to you. 

To secure payments, some of the things the LCSA may do, are: 

  • Report missed payments to credit reporting agencies;
  • Deny your ex a passport renewal; 
  • Place a lien against their property;
  • Suspend their state-issued driver’s license; 
  • Intercept tax refunds to deduct payment; 
  • Use the Financial Institution Data Match to find assets, and retrieve money from what’s available; 
  • Subtract funds from disability and/or unemployment benefits; and, even,
  • Claim lottery winnings—if your ex happens to be lucky enough to get the winning ticket. 

Since their services do not cost you anything, it makes a lot of sense to use the LCSA, rather than trying to get your ex to cough up the cash on your own.


Penalties for Failure to Pay Spousal Support

The consequences for not paying spousal support go beyond garnished wages. As you can see, not making these payments could affect credit scores, mess with bank accounts, keep you from traveling, detrimentally affect tax filings, and—in some cases—could even hold you in contempt of court. 

Being held in contempt is a criminal offence. Under these charges, if someone can prove that you withheld spousal support funds intentionally, you could be slapped with jail time. 


If You Can’t Pay, Notify the Court Immediately

Of course, life is unpredictable, and things can happen that make it difficult or impossible to make payments. The court understands these situations arise, and when they do, it’s important to notify them as soon as possible. Sometimes couples can come together and figure out an alternative payment schedule on their own. If not, however, you may still be able to file a motion to modify with the court.

One thing is clear, though, with so many negative consequences for withholding spousal support, there’s never a good reason to ignore payments.  


California Spousal Support Attorneys

If you are struggling to collect spousal support from your ex, or, if you don’t agree with an order of spousal support, we can help. Call us at (209) 989-4425, or get in touch online to schedule your consultation, and together, we can explore options that will address your individual needs, without detrimentally effecting your own interests.