Q: What do I have to do to collect on back alimony that my ex husband did not pay and is there a time limit on it?
The divorce was in Feb of 2014. He stopped paying December of 2016. The divorce decree alimony payment was for 5 years. He claims he is going to pay but hasn't.
A: You are going to need to retain an experienced matrimonial attorney to bring an enforcement action against him and for any supplemental proceedings. I am unaware of any statute of limitations on collection of alimony arrears.
To collect unpaid alimony, you must file a motion to enforce the obligation with the Superior Court. Under Court Rule 5:3-7(b), the Court an impose any of the following remedies for nonpayment of alimony: "(1) fixing the amount of arrearages and entering a judgment upon which interest accrues; (2) requiring payment of arrearages on a periodic basis; (3) suspension of an occupational license or driver's license consistent with law; (4) economic sanctions; (5) participation by the party in violation of the order in an approved community service program; (6) incarceration, with or without work release; (7) issuance of a warrant to be executed upon the further violation of the judgment or order; and (8) any other appropriate equitable remedy."
There is technically no time limit imposed on the collection of unpaid support. There is, however, something called the Doctrine of Laches, which was described by the New Jersey Supreme Court in the 1982 case of Lavine v. Hackensack as "an equitable defense that may be interposed in the absence of a statute of limitations." Effectively, to prevail under the Doctrine of Laches, your ex-husband would have to establish that you unreasonably delayed the enforcement of your right to alimony and that enforcement now would cause him some kind of substantial harm. As held by the New Jersey Supreme Court in the 2003 case of Knorr v. Smeal, "[t]he core equitable concern in applying laches is whether a party has been harmed by the delay." In deciding whether to apply the doctrine, the Court will consider, among other things, the length of delay, the reasons for delay, and the nature of any resulting harm.
Whether the Court applies to the Doctrine of Laches (and in what manner) depends on the unique facts of your case. But one thing is certain: The longer you wait, the stronger your ex-husband's argument under the Doctrine of Laches becomes. You should act to enforce your financial rights immediately. In doing so, I strongly recommend that you take the matter seriously and retain an attorney. Strategic and aggressive counsel will help to maximize your odds of success in Court. Many of the attorneys here on Justia, including me, would be willing to sit down with you free of charge to explore the facts, explain the law, and address the likely timeline, costs, and range of possible outcomes. Please reach out to one of us.
A: Thank you for your question. I am sorry to hear you are experiencing this stressful situation. The courts take the issue of alimony enforcement very seriously. Check your Judgment of Divorce’s details for any specific language it might include about issues of non-payment. If you and your former spouse can not reach an agreement for how payments can be made current, one option would be to go to the courts to make a claim for enforcement. If the courts grant it, the remedy may be wage garnishment from the former spouse to pay off arrears. To understand your rights, I encourage you to schedule an appointment with an attorney to discuss your specific situation.
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