Dear Penny: How Do I Get My Ex-Husband’s $10K of Past-Due Alimony?

This photo shows a family of three with a box over the father's head to represent divorce.
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Dear Penny,

I was married for 20 years and worked up until I had children. We divorced and I went back to work, but I only made about one-fourth of what my ex made at the time of the settlement. 

Things went OK until about two years ago when my ex changed jobs and told me that he was going to have to pay me a lesser amount of alimony, but would make up the difference with his end-of-year bonus. Two years later and this hasn’t happened. 

I notified him in writing that I felt it was time to make up the missing payments (now well over $10,000). He informed me that he would like to, but he is now unemployed. 

I would consider this, except for the fact that he is now living with his girlfriend. They have renovated her house, travel several times a year by air, eat out several times a week, drive nice cars, take yearly vacations with the entire family, and have season tickets for local events. 

I just need to get my house in good repair. Do I have any options? If I have to wait him out, can I sue his estate?


Dear A.,

It’s possible to file a claim for unpaid alimony against someone’s estate when they die. But you’d have to get in line with other creditors, and there may be nothing left to pay your claim. Plus, I don’t want you to have to wait that long to get your $10,000 and counting.

Your ex-husband is violating a court order by not paying you the alimony that was part of your divorce settlement. But there are a couple of things I wish I knew here.

Dear Penny

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It’s not clear to me whether your ex-husband is currently paying alimony but owes you $10,000 worth of missed payments from two years ago, or if he stopped paying altogether when he changed jobs. Also: Do you think your ex-husband is sitting on a pile of cash that he’s using to finance the sweet life with his girlfriend? Or is it likelier that he truly doesn’t have much money and his girlfriend makes enough to pay for everything?

Ultimately, you need to set a deadline. Let your ex know that if he doesn’t start paying something, you’ll have no other choice but to hire an attorney and take him to court. The consequences of not paying court-ordered alimony can be severe. They can include liens, seizures of property, wage garnishment and even jail time, depending on the state.

That said, it will probably be better for both of you if you can avoid going to court. If he’s currently making some payments, maybe he could tack on an extra couple hundred dollars each month to start catching up. Even if he’s unemployed, he could probably make some extra money with that nice car, like driving for Uber.

But if your ex shows no signs of paying you, by all means, take him to court. Bear in mind, though, that if his financial situation has changed, he may be able to ask a judge to modify his payment. It’s essential that you talk to an attorney about your strategy.

My guess is your former husband is less scared of you than he is of a judge. Maybe he’ll be more motivated to start digging himself out of this hole if he believes you’re serious about taking him to court.

Once you finally get your finances in order, you want to keep them that way. Here are several moves to make now.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected].