Spousal maintenance, better known as alimony, is a court-mandated payment plan from one spouse to another following a divorce. Historically, alimony is paid by a working husband to a nonworking wife.
That historical trend has changed in recent years, as female participation in the workplace has reached an all-time high. In some states, however, spousal maintenance laws have been slow to keep up with societal changes.
A New Jersey man, for instance, has been imprisoned eight times for failure to pay his alimony payments. A former investment banker with a seven figure salary, the man lost his job when the economy collapsed in 2008. His alimony payments, however, were calculated when he was still making $1 million per year. As a result, he was asked to pay nearly $100,000 per year in combined spousal support and child support.
Without a job, the man was unable to make the payments for long. Within two years, he was out of money and unable to pay. Following a family court hearing, the man was imprisoned for contempt of court. Since then, he has been imprisoned seven more times.
Imprisoning a nonpaying spousal support debtor is unusual, but not unheard of. Usually, judges refrain from imprisonment, because it tends only to exacerbate the nonpayment problem.
In this case, the man sees no end to his money troubles. In New Jersey, permanent alimony is legal, and modifying alimony due to changed circumstances, such as a lost job, is difficult or impossible.
Fortunately, our Illinois readers do not have to worry about a suddenly lost job or disability. Laws in our state provide options for those whose circumstances change after the divorce, allowing spouses to modify the spousal support agreement to reflect the new situation. This helps to ensure that ex-spouses continue to pay a fair price that won’t land them in debt — or prison.
Bloomberg, ” Jail Becomes Home for Husband Stuck With Lifetime Alimony” Sophia Pearson, Aug. 27, 2013