How to Change Alimony Payments So They Are Paid Through a Court

By Cindy Chung

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If you have a court order to receive alimony, your ex-spouse must pay regular support as required by the court. If you stop receiving the payments, you may need to ask for court enforcement. State courts can often require the direct payment of alimony through wage garnishment. If a court issues a wage garnishment order, the employer must withdraw the alimony payment from the employee's paychecks for payment to the ex-spouse who receives alimony. The process of changing your existing court order to include wage garnishment depends on the alimony laws and procedures of your own state.

Research the laws of your state to determine the required procedures for changing an existing court order. Some states refer to this process as a modification. Alternatively, research the relevant state laws regarding enforcement of an alimony order if your state handles wage garnishment as an enforcement matter rather than as a modification.

If your state's alimony laws require a judgment confirming unpaid, court-ordered alimony before you can request enforcement measures, obtain and prepare the required forms and deliver them to your state court . The titles of the required forms vary according to the terminology used by your state. In some states, for example, you must file an "Order to Show Cause" form.

Ask the court to require wage garnishment for the payment of alimony after you have obtained a judgment showing your ex-spouse owes arrears, i.e. past due payments, to you. Fill out the court form to request wage garnishment if your state requires one.

Alternatively, obtain the court forms to request a modification of your existing order for alimony if your state does not first require a judgment of arrears. Ask the court to change your court order to require wage garnishment from the paying party's paychecks. Explain the arrears and other circumstances that have caused you to request the wage garnishment.


A court cannot enforce alimony payments without an existing court order for alimony. If you do not currently have a court order, you must obtain one before the court can require wage garnishment.

In some states, a failure to pay alimony can result in civil or criminal law consequences beyond wage garnishment. In particular, state courts may use contempt proceedings. If the court finds someone to be in contempt of court, the state may allow the arrears to accrue interest or even pursue jail time for the party who does not pay. However, a state court likely cannot impose contempt penalties on a party who genuinely cannot afford to pay alimony as ordered by the court.