Can I go to Jail for Not Paying Alimony / Spousal Support?

Spousal support, also called alimony or support and maintenance, is court ordered payment to a spouse or ex-spouse. You may get spousal support if you are still married and separated.  Since spousal support is court ordered, the question is, “Can I go to jail for not paying spousal support?”  The simple answer to that question is: “Yes.”

If a court orders you to pay spousal support, then failure to pay is disobeying a court order, and the court can find you in “contempt of court” for disobeying its order.  Remedies for failure to pay support include wage liens, levies upon personal property, garnishment of property, garnishment of wages, and even incarceration.  See Va. Code Ann. § 20-115.  Pursuant to Va. Code Ann. § 20-115, if the court finds you in contempt, it can order you incarcerated for up to one year and order that you perform work during the year you are incarcerated.

In Virginia, the Court can order one spouse to pay support to the other in a lump sum, in periodic installments for a fix period of time, or in periodic installments for an indefinite period of time, also called “permanent support.”  See Va. Code Ann. § 20-107.1(C).  When the Court orders support without agreement of the parties, evidence of certain events can terminate the support obligation.  One such event is when the spouse receiving support lives with another person in a marriage-like relationship for one year or more according.  See Va. Code Ann. § 20-109.

Once spousal support has been set by decision of the court, it cannot be changed unless there has been a material change in circumstances since the last spousal support order.  See Va. Code Ann. § 20-109.  A material change might include a significant increase or decrease in income because of either party.  Upon petition, the court can raise, lower, or terminate the amount of spousal support.

If the parties agree in a marital agreement incorporated by court order, however, that there can be spousal support modification, then the court does not have the power to modify support.  See Va. Code Ann. § 20-109(C).  This means that if a party agrees to pay support for 10 years and that the obligation is unmodifiable, then he or she is obligated to pay that support for 10 years, no matter what happens.  If he or she is making $500,000 per year when the agreements is made, and subsequently loses his or her job and cannot find any job other than a fry cook at McDonald’s, he or she is still out of luck and support will not be modifiable.  The rule also means that if a party agrees to waive his or her right for support and agrees that the waiver is unmodifiable, then the court does not have the power to award him or her support.

For these reasons, it is very important to carefully consider all your rights before obligating yourself to pay support, before accepting a support offer, or before waiving your right for support.  Once an agreement is signed, there is very little that can be done to have that agreement set aside, even if the agreement is not yet part of a court order.  There are ways to set an agreement aside, but they require very special circumstances and are rarely used by the courts.  If you have questions, the Leesburg Divorce Attorneys at Beckman Schmalzle PLC can help you get those questions answered.  The attorneys at Beckman Schmalzle PLC are located in Leesburg, Virginia and routinely practice in Loudoun County, Fairfax County, Clarke County, Frederick County, and Prince William County.

You can also see our related blog post, Can I go to Jail for Not Paying Child Support?


  1. My ex husband has stopped paying alimony
    He owns his own company so I have heard there is no way to garnish wages, is it possible to do?

    • It would still be possible to garnish wages even if he is paid by his own company. It might get a little muddy depending on his company pays him though and exactly what type of business he owns.

  2. To muddy the waters further, if a non-custodial parent pays only a portion of the child support order, is he still held accountable for the portion not paid as an arrearage? Or is he off the hook?

    • He would still be responsible for what he has not paid, including interest. A court may look more favorably on partial payments as opposed to a complete lack of payment though. If a person is really trying, but is going through a hard financial time, the court may be more willing to impose a sanction other than jail.

  3. My temporary spousal support is very high. And my ex-wife is milking me for everything that I have. What can I do about this? The court already ordered a $6000 monthly temporary spousal support because my lawyer failed to fight for me. I really cannot afford this, but the judge did not take my expenses into consideration. What can I do? She does not have a job, and does not earn more than i do.



  1. Can I go to Jail for not Paying Child Support? - […] You can also see our related blog post, Can I Go to Jail for Not Paying Spousal Support? […]

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