What Happens If I Can’t Pay Alimony?

Schwartz, Fox & Saltzman, LLC. – Philadelphia Divorce Lawyers

Following a divorce, a common question people ask is, “What happens If I can’t pay alimony?” If you cannot make court ordered alimony payments, there can be severe legal and financial consequences. A Philadelphia lawyer who is experienced in family law matters can help you understand options to protect your right and minimize the impact on your life.

This article by the divorce attorneys at Schwartz, Fox, and Saltzman provides an overview of the possible legal consequences of failing to pay alimony in Pennsylvania.

Potential Outcomes of Not Paying Alimony

Under Pennsylvania Law (§3703 of the Divorce Code), courts have broad discretion in enforcing alimony awards. The outcomes can range from contempt, financial penalties, loss of property, and possibly jail time. Accordingly, representation by an experienced family law attorney is essential.

Contempt of Court

Contempt occurs when a person fails to obey a court order. Stated more clearly, courts use contempt as a tool to ensure people comply with court orders such as awards for alimony. If you fail to pay alimony, Pennsylvania law (§3703(6) of the Divorce Code) allows your former spouse to file a petition for civil contempt with the court which can result in you being incarcerated for six months if you are found to have willfully failed to pay alimony.

License Suspensions

Depending on the facts of your case, failing to pay alimony may result in your driving license being suspended. Specifically, if you fail to appear in court for a contempt hearing after receiving proper notice, the court may issue a bench warrant for your arrest. The court can also suspend your driver’s license for failing to appear.


The financial penalties for failing to pay alimony can be severe. A court can impose interest on unpaid alimony. Along with interest, a court can seize property, wages, and profits from any business or rental property you own to satisfy an alimony award.

Jail Time

If you repeatedly fail to make alimony payments, you risk being found in contempt of court. The penalty for civil contempt can result in an indefinite jail sentence. This is because a person remains in contempt until they comply with the court’s order.

What You Can Do If You Can’t Afford Alimony Payments

You do have options if you are struggling to pay alimony. Specifically, you can seek a modification of the court’s alimony order. It is important to seek a modification before you begin falling behind on alimony payments.


If you are struggling to make an alimony payment, you may be able to request a modification of the alimony order. Specifically, you can seek a modification if there is a material change in circumstances, e.g., you lost your job. Additionally, if your former spouse remarried, you may be able to move to have the alimony award terminated.


In mediation, you and your ex-spouse can work together to develop a new agreement which considers your current financial situation. You may also be able to work with your ex-spouse through mediation to develop a new alimony agreement which works for both parties. This can be a more cost-effective and less adversarial approach than going to court.

Talk with an Experienced Divorce Attorney

If you are having trouble making alimony payments, it is important to speak with an experienced family law attorney. At Schwartz, Fox & Saltzman, our Philadelphia family law attorneys have been successfully representing individuals in alimony disputes for over 40 years. To learn about our services, contact us today for a free consultation.

Summary of Inability to Pay Alimony or Spousal Support

Failing to make alimony payments can have serious consequences, including contempt of a court order, financial penalties, and even jail time. It is important to speak with an experienced divorce attorney to understand your legal options and protect your rights. However, if you are struggling to make payments, you may be able to request a modification or work with your ex-spouse through mediation.

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