How to collect spousal support

Usually, the payments are taken directly from your spouse's pay by their employer and sent to you (called an earnings assignment or income withholding). Some people call this a wage garnishment. If your spouse does not pay support, there are steps you can take to collect the support you're owed.

How you get the support payments

Often payments come directly from your spouse's employer 

Whenever a judge orders someone to pay spousal support, they usually also sign an earnings assignment order. The earnings assignment order tells your spouse's employer to take the support payments out of your spouse's pay. If your spouse also has a child support earnings assignment, the employer takes child support out first. Spousal or domestic partner support is taken out after that. 

The employer sends the money to you. If you also receive child support, the employer sends the money to the State Disbursement Unit (SDU) who then sends it to you.

If your spouse does not have a regular employer, like they are self-employed or work contract jobs, the judge can order your spouse to send payments directly to you.

You can agree to get support payments directly from your spouse 

Some people agree to this if their spouse has a history of making payments on time and having their employer pay will cause them hardship. If you also receive child support and the Local Child Support Agency (LCSA) is part of your case, then someone from that agency will need to agree as well. The judge will need to sign the agreement to make it part of the order.

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If you agree to get payments directly from your spouse, you can still ask for an earnings assignment, but ask that it gets put on hold (stayed). Then, if your spouse ever stops paying support to you, you can ask the judge to end the stay of the earnings assignment. This means you can have it sent to the employer.

How to get an earnings assignment or have it put on hold

If you also receive child support and the LCSA is part of your case, they will get an earnings assignment order (called Income Withholding). If not, then you will need to submit the paperwork to ask the judge for the order. 

1. Get a signed copy of an earnings assignment order 
If you asked in your support agreement or at a hearing on support for an earnings assignment, the judge will sign an Earnings Assignment Order for Spousal or Partner Support (form FL-435). If you also receive child support, the judge will sign an Income Withholding for Support (form FL-195) instead.

2. Serve the employer
After the judge signs the Earnings Assignment or Income Withholding Order, have someone over 18, not you, mail a copy of the Order along with a blank Request for Hearing Regarding Earnings Assignment (form FL-450) to your spouse's employer. Complete a Proof of Service by Mail (form FL-335). Your server must sign it. File it with the court.

3. The employer takes the support from your spouse's pay

Once the employer receives the Order, they have 10 days to take the money from your spouse's next paycheck. If your spouse also has a child support earnings assignment, the employer takes child support out first. Spousal or domestic partner support is taken out after that. 

4. Support is sent to you or to the State and then to you 
If the order is only to pay spousal support, the employer sends the money directly to you. If the order includes child support, the employer sends the money to the State Disbursement Unit (SDU). The SDU then sends the child and spousal support to you. It will not come from the employer. If you have any questions, contact the SDU at 1-866-901-3212 or visit the State Disbursement Unit's website.

The LCSA will handle getting an Income Withholding Order. They will have the order served within 15 days of locating your spouse's employer. Once the employer receives the Order, they have 10 days to take the money from your spouse's next paycheck. The employer takes child support out first. Spousal or domestic partner support is taken out after that.

The employer must send the money to the SDU. The SDU then sends the child and spousal support to you. It will not come from the employer or the LCSA. 

1. Sign an agreement. You and your spouse can write up an agreement that you both sign stating that you agree to "stay the service of the earnings assignment order."  If the LCSA is part of your case, someone from that agency will need to approve and sign the agreement.
2. Your spouse fills out a court form. Your spouse can fill out the Stay of Service of Earnings Assignment Order (form FL-455). Attach the signed agreement to the form.

3. Make copies and file the form. Make at least 1 copy of the form and agreement. File the original with the clerk. If the judge agrees with your request, they will sign the Stay of Service. 
If your spouse stops making payments, you can ask the judge to end (terminate) the stay by filling out page 2 of form FL-455 and filing it with the clerk. 

If your spouse is not paying support

Your spouse will owe interest on any unpaid support. The interest rate for unpaid support is 10% per year. It works like interest on a credit card.

If you also receive child support, you can ask the Local Child Support Agency (LCSA) to help you collect support. They help collect spousal support if you're receiving child support (not just an order for past-due child support). Their services are free. 

The LCSA has many other ways to help collect support. They have access to databases to find where someone works. They can also take income tax refunds, report the unpaid support to a credit agency, and have money taken from someone's bank accounts. Contact the LCSA to find out if they can help.

If your spouse misses payments, you can ask a judge to make an order that says exactly how much is owed in unpaid support (called arrearages). Then, you can ask the judge to order that your spouse makes a monthly payment on the amount unpaid in addition to their monthly payments. 

Fill out and file your court forms

On your Form FL-300, check the box at item 8 (“Other Orders Requested”) and write in “Determine arrears and set monthly liquidation payment of $ (write in a reasonable amount).” The “liquidation payment” is the payment that goes toward your back spousal or partner support.

After you file the forms, you need to have someone mail a copy of your papers to your spouse and to the LCSA if they are part of our case (serve your papers). A judge will decide on your court date whether to change the amount. Get step-by-step instructions on how to file and serve your forms, and prepare for your court date.

Get free help

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Your court's Self-Help Center can help you with earnings assignments or income withholding orders. If you need help with the forms or your spouse's employer is not sending the money, talk to staff at your court's Family Law Facilitator or Self-Help Center.