I have previously written a number of blogs about the tricky subject of spousal maintenance.  In the main I have addressed what the court looks at when considering when to make a spousal maintenance order. However, what happens when you are successful in obtaining a court order for spousal maintenance but the person ordered to pay it doesn’t?

First, if you are the person who has been ordered to pay spousal maintenance it is vital that you don’t simply stop paying.  Doing so could cause you all sorts of problems.  It is therefore vital that you seek legal advice if you are struggling to pay the order rather than unilaterally ceasing payments.

Second, if you are the recipient of spousal maintenance and the payer has stopped paying it is important to act swiftly. Enforcing arrears that are over 12 months old becomes much harder to achieve.  You need the permission of the court to apply for arrears over a year old and the court has more discretion to eliminate arrears of that age.

If you are owed arrears of spousal maintenance you can either: –

Available specific enforcement measures

There are a number of specific enforcement measures available:-

  • an attachment of earnings order;
  • a warrant of control;
  • a third-party debt order;
  • a charging order;
  • a judgment summons.

We’ll now look at each of these enforcement measures in more detail.

An attachment of earnings order

When this order is made the debtor’s employer takes money directly from the debtor’s earnings which is then sent to the court who will then send it to you. When this application is made the court will usually expect you and the debtor to attend a hearing.  The judge will decide whether to make the order and also decide how much the debtor should pay each month.

This should only be applied for if the debtor is in regular employment (not self-employment).

A warrant of control

This allows a bailiff to visit the debtor’s home or business.  The bailiff will attempt to collect the money owed to you or take goods from the debtor which can then be sold at auction to raise the money.

A warrant of control will only assist if the debtor has enough goods at the address you give which could be sold to raise the money or the debtor has all the money you are claiming.

A third-party debt order

A third-party debt order freezes money in the debtor’s bank account.  The court can then make an order that a payment is made to you directly from the debtor’s account.

The money held by the third party must be solely for the debtor. You cannot, for example, apply for a third-party debt order against a joint bank account.

A charging order

This prevents the debtor from selling their home until they have paid the money owed to you by placing a ‘charge’ against the debtor’s property.  If the debtor owns stocks or shares the court can also put a charge on these in the same way.

A judgment summons

With a judgment summons the debtor could be sent to prison if they do not pay the amount that is owed to you.  However, the judge will only send the debtor to prison if you can prove that the debtor has the funds available to pay you but refuses to do so.  This can be difficult to prove.

Applying for the court to decide on the method of enforcement

This is the most common approach when dealing with enforcement of spousal maintenance mainly because the above specific measures require at least some understanding (and proof) of the debtor’s financial situation.  The application requires the debtor to attend court to answer questions and produce documents.  The judge will then decide how the order will be enforced.

If you do have any details about the debtor’s income and/or assets they should be provided to the court (with your application) and they will be taken into account, enabling the court to enforce the order more effectively.  The court can order any of the above specific enforcement measures with the exception of a judgment summons under this process.

As you can see enforcing a spousal maintenance order can be a minefield.  It is therefore important that you seek legal advice as to the appropriate course of action.

The above deals only with maintenance orders that have been made in England and Wales and/or where the debtor lives within the UK.  In my next blog in this series I will deal with enforcement if the order was made outside of England and Wales and/or the debtor lives outside the UK.

If you would like to talk to an expert on spousal maintenance payments please do not hesitate to get in touch.

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25 responses to “What happens if my ex stops paying spousal maintenance?

  1. i hold a uk passport and have lost my job and unable to maintain the level of maintenance agreed to 7 years ago when i was in a high paying job – of course i realise i can go to court to have the level changed in line with a job i may get but am currently unemployed and have no assets whatsoever – i am a resident of UAE – my question is, when i return to uk to visit my family, and have not paid the maintenance will my passport be confiscated or has this now been changed, so i will be freee to enter and leave uk as i please

    1. Thank you for your comment.

      Presuming there is a Court Order in place, your former spouse would be able to make an application for enforcement and may request that a power of arrest and confiscation of your passport is attached to this.

      If your former spouse were to make an application for enforcement, it is in your best interests to engage in those proceedings and seek a variation of the order. This is something we could assist you with. If you would like to arrange an appointment (whether face to face or by Skype or telephone), please contact us on 01273 646900.

  2. I have spousal maintenance, but me ex believes as I have received an inheritance he thinks he can stop paying me !

    1. Thank you for reading our blog and for your question. There may be some relevance in the impact inheritance may have on maintenance in the event it creates a change in circumstances. You would need to get some specific advice which would include understanding what you are receiving and when, what impact this may have in terms of any income it may generate and so forth.

      None of this means that if there is an order in place payments can stop without your agreement or further order of the court. If payments stop you could look to enforce and by the same token your ex could make an application to vary the terms of the order.

      It would be sensible to get some initial advice from a Resolution lawyer so that the issue can be looked at in detail and specific advice provided. We can certainly assist with this and can make this really effective by you completing an online web-based tool we have developed called Engage. We can then arrange a telephone or video call to look to providing you with the specific advice you need.

  3. my ex husband stopped paying my divorce maintenance even it was a standing order from a high court writ ,
    what should i do and which form i have to fill up to claim the money owed
    thank you

    1. Thank you for your comment. You will need to obtain legal advice from a Resolution lawyer as soon as possible. The appropriate course of action will be dependent on a number of things. If we can assist on a formal basis please get in touch.

  4. My ex- husband stopped paying maintenance in January 2019. It is £300 per month. I have to admit I have only just noticed, which I know sounds ridiculous.. Both my sons suggest a solicitor’s letter at least. We are both 82.. I don’t have funds to pay large legal bills. It is the principle that is the most important

    1. Dear Sylvia, thank you reading our blog and for your comment. We would recommend that you contact your former husband initially (if you feel able to communicate with him) to find out why the payments have stopped and hopefully to get them reinstated. Another option would be to invite your former husband to mediator [https://www.familylawpartners.co.uk/how-we-work/family-mediation/] to try to resolve matters. Enforcement proceedings should be the last resort if possible. If we can assist on a formal basis please get in touch.

  5. My ex has stopped paying my Spousal Maintenance as he has been Furloughed as I have.
    He said he would start repayments once back at work.
    Do I need to do anything now or contact the court, as he hadn’t.

    1. Dear Dawn, thank you for reading our blog and for commenting. If your ex has been furloughed it is likely that he will be entitled to support from one of the government schemes and as such it is likely that he will be receiving some income. You will need to consider whether it is appropriate to agree a complete halt to the payments or, more appropriately, a reduction. There will need to be a dialogue between you and your ex. If necessary, and if there are challenges in agreeing what should be paid, see if you can use online mediation to help you resolve matters. In the first instance, try and resolve it between yourselves but for that to work there will need to be an open and honest conversation about what is being earned, what is affordable etc. If you reach an agreement ensure it is in writing and if it is on a temporary basis then there is no need to inform the court. If, however it is going to be a long term agreement then you will need to consider whether a consent order should be filed with the court which varies the original order. You may find this blog helpful which deals with specific issues relating to maintenance and Covid-19: https://www.familylawpartners.co.uk/blog/coronavirus-covid-19-and-child-and-spousal-maintenance-payments/

  6. My ex husband, who has a life time voluntary consent court order, has, without warning ceased payments for me and our child, he states that due to being involved in some schemes designed to minimise his tax payments to the HMRC being declared unlawful, he cannot afford the payments due to what he owes in Revenue, he is a highly paid professional but has taken sick leave due to ‘stress,’ he refuses to apply to the court for a downturn and has stated that he wants a clean break without any further payments, can he do this and if not how can I enforce the court order?

    1. Dear Theresa, thank you for your post. I am sure this must be a very worrying time for you. Depending on the terms of the order you may need to consider enforcement proceedings. I would recommend you seeking advice on this as soon as possible from a Resolution lawyer – the advisor will need to see the original order. We can certainly assist and if you would like one our specialists to contact you please let us know.

  7. My ex recently decided he no longer wanted to pay my spousal maintenance and emailed me asking for my agreement. I told him I couldn’t viably agree at this time. He subsequently went to mediation and I refused due our past mediation experiences of him and his non-compliance with the agreements made. I do not feel comfortable going through that again and I don’t feel it would achieve anything other than be extremely damaging for my mental health. I have told him my reasons for not wishing to attend mediation suggesting that instead we would be able to come to an agreement by email and that I’m open to setting an end date on the maintenance or receiving a lump sum payment. He did not respond. He has never complied fully with the consent order and never paid full child maintenance (our children are now adults at university) but I never previously sought to enforce the consent order to collect the arrears etc as I didn’t know how, couldn’t afford it and was worried about his reaction. The impact of previous non payments left me in a lot of debt which I managed to finally clear recently by selling my house. He has now stopped the spousal maintenance without my agreement and without telling me he’s done so. I’m exhausted of him just doing whatever he feels like and the impact of his decisions constantly falling on me without my choice. I’ve always felt my only choice is to suffer at the consequences of his actions so I don’t have to put myself at risk of further emotional abuse. How can I enforce the order and should I? I need the money but am terrified of what will happen if I try and enforce.

    1. Dear Emma, thank you for your email. It sounds like a very worrying time for you. If your former husband has unilaterally breached a court order then you are able to make an enforcement application straight away. We would certainly recommend that you seek assistance from a Resolution family lawyer with your application. Whilst I understand your concerns about mediation it may be a more cost effective way of resolving the issues with your former husband. There are different ways you can mediate and you might want to consider ‘Hybrid Mediation’ where you can be accompanied by your lawyer to advise and support you throughout. You can read more about it here: https://www.familylawpartners.co.uk/blog/hybrid-family-mediation-how-does-it-differ-from-traditional-family-mediation/
      If we can assist on a formal basis please get in touch.

  8. Please help. My ex has stopped my spousal Maintenance and my child’s maintenance. The amount was set by a judge (global payment) and for the last 5yrs there has never been an issue.
    Due to my concerns regarding safeguarding I had to put face to face contact on temporarily hold. Lots of abusive emails and police as he turned up at my property. As of the 1st September my funds from has not come through. I asked him on 2nd if everything is ok etc and he sighted “bank issues”. He’s now pretending he’s lost his online membership Number and the bank has emailed him to tell him to come into branch. When I’ve asked if the money hasn’t left his account then surely he can just transfer the funds, he ignores my email. It’s now been 3weeks and no money and no money for my daughter. My solicitor wants me to just send him a letter which I know he wants me to do (spend money I don’t have). Aren’t I able to take him to court and force him to pay? I’m so worried. I’m a single parent on benefits with an autistic child. I heavily rely on his payments and I feel it’s obvious he’s punishing me for stopping contact temporarily by stopping my daughters and mines funds.

    1. Dear Louise, thank you for your comment. I am sure this is a very worrying time for you. You are entitled to make an enforcement application following the breach of the order by your former husband. However, I agree with your solicitor that it would be prudent to write to him in the first instance to see if the issue can be resolved without the need to issue court proceedings. In the long run it will be more cost effective if you are able to resolve the matter quickly without the need to refer to the court. Your solicitor is likely to provide a deadline for him to pay and if that passes he/she will discuss with you your options in respect of enforcing the order.

  9. Dear Jane, thank you for your comment. I am sure this must be a very worrying time for you. We are unable to provide specific advice within this forum and in any event would need to know much more about the background and the current financial circumstances of you and your former husband. Much will also depend on the terms of the court order itself. I would recommend you seeking advice from a Resolution lawyer as soon as possible to assess the options available to you. If we can assist on a formal basis please get in touch.

  10. Thank you for advising me to see a resolution lawyer will you please remove my post. I regret giving so much detail when you can only give general advise – I was probably so stressed I never thought that through thanks

    1. Hello Jane. Yes, of course, we have removed this. We hope you get the advice you need, if we can help any further please let us know.

  11. Hi there, my ex husband has stopped my monthly payments (Myself and daughter) that were issued by a judge. I have been trying to communicate with ex husband as to when he thinks it will restart but he ignores my emails.

    I feel I have been reasonable as to the late payment but now it’s almost a month.
    My solicitor has advised me I fill out a d11 form but online I have seen I could also do a n334? I will have to represent myself as I have no funds to instruct a solicitor.

    Please can you let me know what forms I need to apply for court. I would like to enforce the order and reclaim the money back lost.

    1. Thank you for your question. As you will have read there are different options when it comes to enforcing maintenance and you should seek advice from your solicitor as to the appropriate method. Your choice of method of enforcement will dictate which is the appropriate application form. For example if you are seeking an Attachment of Earnings Order you will need to use Form FE15. However, if you are applying for the court to decide on the method of enforcement then you will need form D50K.

  12. My court order states that my ex needs to pay child support until they leave full time education. I assuemd this meant until they start university/child benefit stops. However he stopped paying in June and I have been supporting them fianancially (despite not having furlough etc) since then and since they started university. His loan did not kick in until October. My ex said he would liaise with my sons over ‘board and lodging’ etc but has not done so. What form do i need please to apply to court for the non payment since June (to October) if relevant and possible?
    This cutting of child support came at the worst time and over expensive months as they were at home full time and the costs in preparing for uni. Just taking him to uni(scotland) alone cost hundreds and he refused to help with that or accompany us or take him.

    1. Dear Heidi, thank you for your comment. It will depend on the specific wording of the court order but if it says “leaving full time education” then that is when the maintenance would ordinarily cease. Often an order will say “until the age of 18 or ceasing full time education whichever is the later” or words to that effect. I would recommend seeking legal advice from a Resolution lawyer before embarking on any enforcement application. Your children may wish to consider applying to the family court for maintenance in their own right and it would be beneficial for them to get advice on this option.

  13. Thank you for your blog, which is very interesting. I am 58 and have just been made redundant from a well paid job. I have been under the care of my GP due to mental health issues and don’t expect to re-enter the workplace at anything like my previous level, if at all. I have an obligation to pay my ex-wife £700pm in spousal maintenance until she’s 60, which is just shy of £20,000 in total. I’ve received a modest redundancy payment which will be sufficient to maintain my standard of living for 4 to 5 months, after which it will have been exhausted. I have no cash savings to speak of. I’ve offered to pay a lump sum of £5,000 to bring my liability to an end, but this has been rejected, with a counter offer that’s only about £1,000 less than the full amount still due. I simply don’t have the funds to pay it and I’ve had the usual response from my ex-wife’s solicitor threatening all sorts of legal implications, including a further pension sharing order, if I don’t maintain the payments. Unlike my ex-wife, I don’t have the funds available to seek legal advice. All this is very worrying, particularly given my current state of mental health. Can you please tell me what options I have. Many thanks

    1. Dear Andrew. Thank you for your comment. I am sure this must be a very worrying time for you. If you are unable to afford to pay the maintenance in accordance with the order and absent any agreement with your former wife, given your change of circumstances you should consider making a court application to vary the original order.

      You may find these two blogs helpful:

      https://www.familylawpartners.co.uk/blog/in-what-circumstances-will-spousal-maintenance-be-changed/?mh_keyword=family%20law%20partners

      https://www.familylawpartners.co.uk/blog/spousal-maintenance-what-is-it-why-do-i-have-to-pay-it-how-much-and-for-how-long/?mh_keyword=family%20law%20partners

      If we can assist on a formal basis please get in touch, we’d be delighted to help you.

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