Risks You Can Face for Not Paying Alimony

By Michael DiFalco

Alimony can be even less popular than child support to those who are ordered to pay it by the court. But just like child support, there can be consequences for failing to pay alimony. These consequences can range from penalties, suspension of licenses, and even the possibility of jail time.

When and Why Alimony Is Ordered

During a divorce proceeding, your ex-spouse may request the court order you to pay alimony. Alimony, which in New York is called “spousal maintenance”, is a monthly payment that is meant to help the spouse with less income maintain their personal living expenses.

While a court does not always order alimony, the court may be inclined to do so if one spouse was the primary or sole breadwinner in the marriage or there is a significant disparity in the income of the parties. The court may also order alimony if one spouse did not have the same opportunity to develop their own career because they were supporting the marriage and family in other ways.

Alimony is not designed to enrich the receiving spouse at your expense. Instead, it is designed to help a spouse rehabilitate their own income and career while receiving necessary support. This is especially true if the receiving spouse kept the home, raised children, or supported your career and did not pursue a career during the marriage.

Penalties for Refusing or Failing to Pay Alimony

Whether by court order, or a judgment of divorce incorporating a divorce agreement, an award of alimony operates as an order of the court. This means that the court can punish a failure to pay alimony using its contempt powers. Beyond sanctions imposed by the court, other agencies can penalize you for failing to pay alimony.

Monetary Sanctions by the Court

If the court finds you in contempt, it may order that you pay additional penalties for your refusal to pay alimony as ordered. If your ex-spouse incurred attorneys’ fees in trying to enforce the support obligation, you might be held responsible for these costs as well. This can impose an even greater financial burden on you beyond the original alimony order.

Suspension of Driver’s License

You also risk having your New York driver’s license suspended if you fail to make court-ordered support payments. This suspension may remain in effect until your payments are once again current. Any loss of your driver’s license can make it extremely difficult for you to get to work or get around town.


If these previous methods fail to impel you to resume payment of your alimony obligation, the court can sentence you to jail for contempt. The court can direct that you remain in jail for a specific period of time or until a certain amount of alimony is paid.

The goal of any sanction is to encourage you to pay alimony as ordered. Sanctions of any sort will not be imposed if you are fulfilling your alimony obligations. But if you willfully refuse to pay alimony, especially when you have the means to do so, you can expect the courts or the state of New York to take some enforcement action.

Our Knowledgeable New York Family Law Attorneys Will Answer Your Alimony Questions

If you have concerns about your alimony obligations or believe you should no longer have to pay alimony, seek out legal help. A New York alimony and spousal maintenance lawyer may be able to assist you in modifying your alimony order or canceling it altogether. Where this is not possible, your attorney might work to prevent enforcement actions from being taken against you.

Contact Aiello & DiFalco to speak with a family law attorney for professional and helpful advice and representation.

About the Author
I am a partner at Aiello & DiFalco LLP, and my priority for my clients is to guide them through an arduous court case to provide them with the opportunity to write the next chapter in their life. I tailor my approach to each client’s priorities and positions, and to the extent that matters can be predicted, I will always provide a realistic perspective of how the law could be applied to the particular facts and circumstances of a case. Since I thrive on helping people and solving problems, I bring an optimistic and positive approach to practicing in a very difficult area of law. With more than a decade of experience handling hundreds of cases, I have the ability to get results on the issues my clients view as priorities. When cases or certain issues cannot be settled, I have a solid record of success at trials, hearings, and on appeals. Feel free to contact me for a free initial consultation, I am always available to help.