Will I Go to Jail If I Don’t Make My Alimony Payments?

October 4, 2022 | J. Benjamin Stevens | Share:

When a couple gets divorced, the court may order one spouse to pay alimony to the other as part of the Final Order and Divorce Decree. Alimony is a payment from one ex-spouse to the other to help with monthly living expenses when there is a large disparity in income between the parties.

In theory, the intent of alimony is to try to maintain or sustain the standard of living the lower-income spouse enjoyed during a lengthy marriage. If the alimony is short-term alimony, then the purpose is typically intended to make sure the lower-income spouse can get back on their feet in order to properly support themselves without the income of the other spouse.

If you have been ordered to pay alimony in South Carolina and you stop making payments, you may be wondering if you will go to jail. The short answer is that, yes, it’s always possible a judge will decide to sentence you to a jail sentence if you are found in wilful contempt of the Final Order or Divorce Decree issued in your case.


What is Contempt of Court?

If you have been ordered by the court to pay alimony and you fail to make payments, you may be held in contempt of court. Contempt of court is defined as willful disobedience of a court order or directive. In order to be held in contempt, the person alleging contempt must prove three things: 1) that an order existed; 2) that the person against whom contempt is alleged knew of the existence of the order; and 3) that the person against whom contempt is alleged willfully disobeyed the order.

In the context of alimony, if your ex-spouse can prove that you were ordered by the court to make alimony payments and that you willfully failed to make those payments, you may be held in contempt of court. However, it should be noted that “willful” failure to make payments does not simply mean that you are unable to pay. Rather, it means that you made a conscious decision not to make your alimony payment even though you had the ability to do so. If you truly cannot afford your alimony payments, you should seek counsel from a family law attorney to see if a modification from the court is possible in your situation rather than simply stop making payments altogether.


What are the Penalties for Being Held in Contempt?

If you are found guilty of contempt of court for failing to pay alimony, the penalties can vary depending on the facts and circumstances of your case. The court will usually require you to make all of the past due payments within a specified period of time.  In some instances, the judge may order you to pay a fine or reimburse your ex-spouse for attorney’s fees and costs incurred as a result of your failure to pay alimony. The judge may also order community service or place other restrictions on your activities until such time as you are able to pay any amounts owed. In extreme circumstances, a judge may sentence them to jail time, but this is typically reserved for instances where someone has repeatedly failed to make their alimony payments despite having the ability to do so or frequent violation of the same order.


Final Thoughts

If you have been ordered to pay alimony and you are struggling to make your payments, it is important that you seek legal counsel as soon as possible. An attorney can help you determine if a modification of your alimony order is possible based on a change in circumstances. An attorney can also represent you if you are facing contempt charges for failure to pay alimony and help protect your rights throughout the process and hopefully avoid any long-term consequences or jail time.


If you’re in South Carolina, it’s important to contact an experienced family court attorney like J. Benjamin Stevens today to discuss your specific situation.  Even if you aren’t in South Carolina, Mr. Stevens is happy to offer referrals to a well-qualified attorney located in your state. Ben Stevens has provided exceptional legal counsel and support to families throughout South Carolina for over twenty-five years, handling all matters of family law, such as divorce, separation, alimony, and child custody. Our firm is well-equipped to handle all divorce and family law matters, no matter your circumstances. Contact our office at (864) 598-9172 or SCFamilyLaw@offitkurman.com to schedule an initial consultation.


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Contact our office at (864) 598-9172 or SCFamilyLaw@offitkurman.com to schedule an initial consultation.



Ben.Stevens@offitkurman.com | 864.598.9172

Aggressive, creative, and compassionate are words Ben Stevens' colleagues freely use to describe him as a divorce and family law attorney. Mr. Stevens is a Fellow in the prestigious American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, the International Academy of Family Lawyers, and is a Board Certified Family Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. He is one of only two attorneys in South Carolina with those simultaneous distinctions. He has held numerous leadership positions in the AAML, and he currently serves as one of its National Vice Presidents. Mr. Stevens has a statewide practice and regularly appears all across South Carolina.  His practice is focused on complex divorce and child custody cases.

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