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If you were awarded spousal support (also known as alimony) in your Minnesota divorce, and your ex-spouse has fallen behind on payments, you have legal options to collect the amount owed.

Spousal support is often awarded by a judge when there is a disparity of income between spouses. It is intended to allow the lower-earning spouse to maintain their living standards after divorce.

When the paying spouse fails to make court-ordered spousal support payments, the unpaid amount is referred to as arrears (or arrearages). Collecting spousal support arrears can be challenging, but Minnesota law provides remedies to help the recipient spouse recover what they are owed.

Understanding Spousal Support Orders in Minnesota

In Minnesota, a spousal support order made as part of a divorce decree is legally enforceable. The order will specify:

  • The amount of monthly spousal support to be paid
  • The duration of the payments
  • How the payments should be made (e.g., wage garnishment or direct deposit)

The paying spouse is obligated to follow the court order. If they fall behind on payments, the receiving spouse has the right to take legal action to collect the arrears.

How Do Spousal Support Arrears Accrue in Minnesota?

Arrears begin accruing any time the paying spouse fails to make a full monthly spousal support payment by the due date:

  • If a payment is late, the amount owed continues building up.
  • If a payment is only partially made, the difference is added to the arrears.
  • If no payment at all is made in a given month, the full month’s amount is added to the arrears.

For example, if your ex was ordered to pay $500 per month in spousal support but only paid $300 last month, they now owe $200 in arrears. The arrears will continue growing each month if they fail to pay the full amount owed.

What Can Happen If Spousal Support Arrears Are Not Paid in Minnesota?

If your ex-spouse accumulates spousal support arrears and refuses to pay what they owe, they may face serious legal consequences in Minnesota:

  • Contempt of court: The court can hold your ex in contempt for violating a court order. This could lead to fines or even jail time in some cases.
  • Wage garnishment: The court can order your ex’s employer to garnish their wages to pay off arrears. Up to 65% of their disposable earnings can be garnished.
  • Tax intercept: Any tax refund your ex is owed can be seized and applied to the arrears balance.
  • Property liens: Liens can be placed on your ex’s real estate, vehicles, or other property to eventually force the sale or seizure of assets.
  • Driver’s license suspension: In Minnesota, failure to pay spousal support can result in driver’s license suspension.
  • Passport denial: Your ex may not be able to obtain a U.S. passport if they owe substantial arrears.
  • Credit impacts: Unpaid support can damage your ex’s credit history and score.
  • Bank levies: Funds in your ex’s bank accounts can be levied to pay off what is owed.
  • Retirement funds: Your ex’s retirement accounts can be seized through a QDRO to collect current and past-due spousal support.

How to Collect Spousal Support Arrears in Minnesota

If your ex-spouse falls behind substantially on Minnesota spousal maintenance obligations they owe you, you can petition the court to intervene to recover the unpaid arrears.

Here’s how:

1. File Required Court Documents

Once unpaid spousal maintenance reaches 3 times the monthly obligation amount, the first step is filing an Affidavit of Default and a Notice of Entry and Docketing of Maintenance Judgment with the court. Make sure to include the full details of owed arrears and serve copies to your ex-spouse.

2. Wait for Payment or Hearing Request Response

After being served the default notice and affidavit, your ex has 20 days to either pay the full arrears stated or request a hearing to contest the default. If they do neither within 20 days, move forward.

3. File for an Order of Contempt Judgment

With no payment made or a hearing requested within the required timeframe, ask the court to issue a judgment of contempt order for the unpaid support owed. Having this judgment paves the way for enforced collection.

4. Seek Income Withholding Orders

Present the contempt judgment to your ex’s employer to initiate wage garnishment, redirecting their pay towards arrears. Or request bank account levies allowing the seizure of funds to fulfill the past-due support debt.

5. File a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRA)

Additionally, filing a Qualified Domestic Relations Order can provide access to funds in retirement accounts held by the non-paying ex-spouse as a further means to collect overdue support they legally owe.

6. Consult an Attorney

For the best chance of successfully collecting spousal support arrears, consult a qualified family law attorney. An attorney can advise you on the best legal strategies based on your circumstances and handle the necessary filings and court appearances. They will also ensure the court’s orders are fully enforced.

Can Spousal Support Be Modified if Paying Spouse Can’t Afford Arrears?

If the paying ex-spouse genuinely cannot afford to pay spousal support arrears due to job loss or other substantial change in circumstances, they can file a motion to modify the existing support order, including past-due amounts.

However, the burden will be on them to prove the change in circumstances and that they made reasonable efforts to meet their obligation.

If a modification is approved, the paying spouse still remains responsible for making regular support payments going forward in the modified amount ordered by the court.

Getting Help Collecting Spousal Support You Are Owed

Recovering spousal support arrears provides financial stability when you are counting on those court-ordered payments. If your spouse refuses to pay what they owe, seek legal help to enforce the spousal support order and collect the unpaid amounts.

Our experienced family law attorneys at Martine Law are here to help Minnesota residents receive the spousal maintenance they are entitled to.

Contact us today to schedule a consultation.