Stop Paying Spousal Support if I Lose my Job

Stop Paying Spousal Support if I Lose my Job?

patrickcrawford | December 22, 2020

Many people are experiencing unemployment in 2020, and this can cause many financial problems in your life. If you cannot afford your spousal support payments, you should speak with an Annapolis spousal support lawyer as soon as possible.

This past year has presented many struggles for many people and households. Some people are facing costly medical bills due to illness, others lost childcare and have their kids home for virtual school every day, and many businesses had to close their doors. In addition, many people lost their jobs and have not been able to find other suitable work, especially if they have childcare issues, as well. 

If you lost your job and you have a spousal support order, you might be tempted to stop making your payments to your ex-spouse. However, doing so can result in a worse situation down the road if they report your non-payment to the court. Instead of taking matters into your own hands, always schedule a consultation with an Annapolis spousal support lawyer who can advise you of your options. 

Spousal Support Orders in Maryland

Spousal support is not an issue in every divorce, as sometimes, spouses do not need or qualify for support. If two spouses both earn a good living and can support themselves adequately on their own following a divorce, spousal support will likely not come up. However, if there is a financial disparity between the spouses and one person needs additional financial support, the judge might consider awarding a spousal support order. 

It is common for one spouse to be the primary financial supporter of the family, while the other spouse takes a break from working to contribute more to childcare and household care. This division of responsibilities might work just fine during the marriage, but what happens when they get divorced, and the non-working spouse is left without a job or the spouse’s salary?

In this situation, it might take time for the non-working spouse to get the education or training they need to get a suitable job. If this is the case, the court might order spousal support for a period of time while they work to be able to support themselves. If a spouse cannot become financially independent – such as due to older age or disabilities – the court can order indefinite spousal support. 

Courts consider many different factors when awarding spousal support, and if you are ordered to make payments, it is important that you stay on top of the payments as instructed in the court order.  

Unemployment in 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 caused a lot of businesses to shut down, whether temporarily or permanently. While essential workers remained on the job throughout the year, many others were furloughed without pay or let go entirely. In February, before the shutdown occurred, just over six million people were unemployed. This number quickly ballooned to 20.5 million in May. At one point in late spring 2020, unemployment might have been as high as 16 percent. 

If you are one of the millions of people who lost their jobs, you might have many financial concerns. When you lose even a month or two of income, it can make it difficult to cover all of your bills. Savings can be depleted quickly, and months of unemployment can often put you into debt. 

When you have to decide how to adjust your budget, you might likely prioritize bills that can impact your credit, utilities, or housing. If you have a spousal support order, it is natural to wonder if you can simply stop paying support since you can no longer afford it. After all, the support order was based on your financial situation at the time of divorce, and that situation has changed. Can’t you simply stop paying for the time being? 

The answer, unfortunately, is no. You should not decide to stop making spousal support payments. Instead, contact an experienced spousal support attorney who can help. 

Penalties for Failing to Pay Spousal Support

If you stop making your spousal support payments, your ex-spouse can report the matter to the court that issued the support order. Violating a court order is taken very seriously, and there are different penalties you might face. These include:

  • Having payments automatically taken out of any earnings you do have
  • Garnishment of your bank account, tax refund, or any lottery winnings
  • Being held in contempt of court, which can mean fines or even possible time in jail
  • Suspension of a professional license, which can make it even more difficult to find employment

Avoid these serious penalties by learning about spousal support modifications from a qualified family law attorney.

Options for Modifying Spousal Support

Maryland law recognizes that financial circumstances change, and for this reason, the law allows for people to request modifications of their support orders. There are different ways to go about doing this, and you should always have the right legal help during this process.

  • Negotiating with Your Ex-Spouse

In some situations, you might have a decent relationship with your ex-spouse, and you might be able to negotiate a solution regarding spousal support. Maybe your ex-spouse is starting to earn income again and will recognize your financial struggles due to your job loss. You might be able to negotiate a lower amount or the termination of support completely. 

If your ex-spouse agrees to modify the support order, you should have your attorney write up the agreement. You will need to submit the agreement to the court, which can incorporate it into a new modified support order, or terminate the order based on your compromise. 

Even if you and your ex-spouse agree to the modification, you still need to submit it to the court. If you do not, your informal agreement will not negate the court order in place. Your ex-spouse can still take action to enforce the original order if you do not complete the process of having the court grant the agreed-upon changes. 

  • Filing a Petition for Support Modification

Not surprisingly, not everyone is able to agree to modify spousal support out of court. Many recipients of support might be struggling as well, which makes them less likely to agree to a reduction in their spousal support, which might be a key source of income. This does not mean you are out of options, however. 

If you cannot agree on your own, your attorney can prepare and file a spousal support modification petition with the family court. In order for the court to consider a modification, you must show that you have a justifiable reason for the modification due to a substantial change of circumstances. 

Some changes of circumstances that might qualify include:

  • Loss of a job
  • Involuntary unemployment due to disability
  • Significant reduction of income
  • Your ex-spouse now has income or other sources of financial support

If the court finds that your circumstances justify a modification, the judge will review your current situation and determine how to modify the order. This might involve a reduction of your payment amount or terminating the order altogether. 

Discuss Your Options with an Annapolis Spousal Support Lawyer

2020 has been difficult for many people, and if you need financial relief by modifying your spousal support order, the Law Office of Patrick Crawford is here to help. Call (410) 216-7905 or contact us online for more information today. 

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This page has been written, edited, and reviewed by a team of legal writers following our comprehensive editorial guidelines. This page was approved by attorney Patrick Crawford, who has more than 16 years of legal experience practicing family law.