After a breakup, you may be depending on financial support from your former partner/spouse to support yourself and your child or children. Whether you’ve never worked, stopped working to care for the children, are unable to work, or have just been out of the workforce for a long time, alimony and child support become vital to your family’s well-being and financial stability.
You may be wondering how and if that money will be arriving every month, especially if the divorce was less than amicable. Fortunately, there are legal consequences that your former spouse will face if he or she fails to make their court-ordered support payments.
Like many states, Maine believes that children should receive support from both parents. In most cases, when one parent applies to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Division of Support Enforcement and Recovery (DSER) to begin child support collections, the agency sends a request to the parent’s employer for income withholding. That takes the child support payment directly out of the parent’s paycheck for disbursal to the custodial parent.
This is the normal method of child support payment in Maine, unless the court allows alternative payment methods. This income withholding is different than a garnishment of wages, which can take from 25% to 50% of one’s gross income to satisfy payments that are past due.
As long as the DSER is not involved in collecting child support payments, you can request assistance if a parent stops making the payments. The agency can help parents who need help with enforcing an order for support. Should a parent flatly refuse to make child support payments, the state has additional avenues for enforcement, including:
- Wage garnishment and withholding without an order after 30 days (nearly 40% of garnishments are for unpaid child support)
- Adding liens to property (real estate, vehicles, etc.)
- Forcing the sale of property for repayment of support
- Taking money directly from a parent’s bank account
- Intercepting tax refunds, lottery winnings and other financial windfalls
- Suspension of drivers’ and professional licenses after 60 days
- Past due amounts reported to credit bureaus
- Jail time, as a last resort
A custodial parent can also file a motions for contempt and/or enforcement to attempt to collect unpaid child support, which will require evidence to show the lack of payment. A judge may award sanctions to the non-paying parent, such as liens, fines, or jail time.
A parent who takes a lesser-paying job may still be responsible for a higher amount of child support based on their occupation and educational abilities. Quitting a high-paying job for a minimum-wage job will not relieve the parent of their obligation, nor will it change the amount of the payments. In the case of disability, a parent would have to go back to court to request a change in the support order.
Also known as “alimony,” spousal support in Maine is financial support of a former spouse after a marriage ends. It is separate from child support, and is intended to maintain the economic situation of both parties as it was during the marriage.
Unlike child support, spousal support is not automatic, and must be requested in the divorce decree. A judge has a great amount of discretion in whether to award support, and how much.
Maine has several types of spousal support:
- General support, awarded to a spouse with a smaller earning capacity than the other, so that he or she may maintain an equitable standard of living once the divorce is final
- Transitional support, for a fixed period of time to assist one party with short-term expenses from the end of the relationship or assistance with re-entering the workforce
- Reimbursement support, due to economic misconduct from the other person, or for a spouse who provided substantial contributions to the other’s education or professional development (awarded in limited circumstances)
- Interim support provides financial assistance during the divorce proceedings
- Nominal support allows the court to increase the amount of support in the future
Because spousal support is dealt with differently than child support, nonpayment is a violation of a court order. But like child support, there are similar sanctions for nonpayment.
Maine’s 951 Title 19-A states that “The court may use all necessary legal provisions to enforce its decrees.” This can include sanctions similar to the ones for child support, including:
- Property liens, including real estate
- Liens on bank accounts
- Rents, profits or other income from real estate
- Requirement for life insurance to provide security that the support will be paid in the event of the payor’s death before the end of the support order.
- Jail time
Family Law Attorney In Gorham, ME
Divorce is a difficult period for everyone involved. For more than 25 years, Peter W. Evans has helped Mainers with family law issues. Mr. Evans gives each client and case personal attention to resolve nearly any family law issue, including separation, divorce, child and spousal support. Call (207) 747-5114 today or contact us online to make an appointment.