When alimony is awarded as part of a legal separation or divorce settlement, it becomes a legally binding agreement enforceable by the court. As such, the receiving spouse has recourse if and when the paying spouse fails to meet his or her payment obligation. Usually, this involves filing a petition with the court that issued the order to have the obligation enforced, assuming both parties still live within the jurisdiction of that court. What happens if the paying spouse moves to another state?
The Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA), originally drafted in 1992 and amended as recently as 2008, was designed to ensure that orders of family support were honored across state borders. (1) Although the Act primarily enforces the payment of child support, it also covers spousal support or alimony. (2)
While alimony may not be as common as it once was, there are circumstances that will lead a court to award these payments. In New Jersey, there are four types of alimony that may be awarded:
• Limited duration — or term — alimony, which is payable for only a specified period;
• Rehabilitative alimony, which is also payable for a limited time, usually long enough to allow the receiving spouse to acquire education or training necessary to land a job;
• Reimbursement alimony, which is awarded to compensate for financial sacrifices made during the course of the marriage; and
• Permanent alimony, which is usually reserved for the breakup of long-term marriages where the earning potential of one spouse is dramatically different from the potential of the other spouse. (3)
Laws governing alimony vary by state, so what New Jersey considers to be reasons for awarding alimony may not apply in another state. UIFSA was intended to make enforcement of support judgments easier among parties who live in different states. (1)
Under ordinary circumstances, the receiving spouse can return to the court that originally issued the order in an effort to collect delinquent payments. When ex-spouses live in different states, however, copies of the original judgment have to be filed in the state where the paying spouse now resides. Then it is up to the court in that state to take action to enforce the judgment. (4)
Before trying to collect support payments from an ex residing in a different state, the receiving spouse must first determine whether or not that state enforces spousal support-only judgments and, if yes, does that state honor requests for enforcement from non-residents. The receiving spouse must also learn the policies and procedures to be followed in that state.
In most cases, orders for child support can be changed outside of the state where the orders were issued, but that is not necessarily the case with alimony judgments. (4) The differences in the way individual states deal with alimony can make collecting delinquent payments complicated. To do so would require a working knowledge of the rules and laws of the state where the spouse who is required to pay alimony resides, which may result in the need to consult with a lawyer licensed in that state.