Paying spousal support

Spousal support payments are often taken directly from your paycheck (called an earnings assignment or income withholding). Sometimes, you may need to ask a judge to cancel or change an earnings assignment. For example, if the amount being taken is not correct or back support (past due) has been added and you can't afford to pay the combined amount.

How to pay support

Pay support on time 

When a judge orders spousal support, they order a date when payments must start. You must pay beginning on that date. Unpaid support collects interest. The interest rate for unpaid support is 10% per year. It works like interest on a credit card.

  • Example: Interest and missed support payments

    Spouse A owes $100.00 in support each month. They do not pay for 5 months. They owe $500.00 in back support. The interest rate for unpaid support is 10%. By the end of the year, spouse A owes $550.00 in support including interest.

Usually, support is taken directly from your pay (earnings assignment)

An earnings assignment is a court order that tells your employer to take the support payments directly from each paycheck and where to send it. If you also pay child support, it's called an Income Withholding Order.

Once your employer receives the order, they have 10 days to take the money from your 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. 

If the order is only to pay spousal support, your employer sends the money directly to your spouse. If the order includes child support, the money gets sent to the California State Disbursement Unit (SDU). The SDU then sends the child and spousal support to your spouse.

How to pay if there's not an earnings assignment

  • Check if your order says how you should make payments. For example, the order may say payments can be made by cash or check. 
  • If you miss payments and you have a regular employer, your spouse can ask the judge to order that payments come directly from your pay by earnings assignment.

If the Local Child support agency (LCSA) is part of your case, they must agree to allow you to not pay support by earnings assignment.

The LCSA is involved in your case if

  • You also have a child support order and one of you asked them for help enforcing all support payments (spousal and child support)
  • One of you gets public assistance for your children (like CalWORKS).

If the LCSA is involved, the LCSA must agree to support not being taken directly from your pay. If your spouse is not getting public assistance, the LCSA will probably agree to both of you working the payments out between you. 

If you do not want to pay by earnings assignment 

If you are regularly employed, you generally must pay by earnings assignment unless your spouse agrees you can pay another way. In some cases, a judge can put an earnings assignment on hold as long as you keep making payments (called staying service of the order). Or, you may be able to cancel the order.

You can ask a judge when they are ordering spousal support to put an earnings assignment on hold. This is called a stay of service. This means that the judge will not have the order sent to your employer now. But, they can have it sent if you miss payments.

The judge can only put the earnings assignment on hold in a few situations. You can ask the judge to do this, for example, if your spouse agrees you can pay them directly, you have a history of making payments on time, or paying support through your employer would cause a hardship. 

How to ask to stay an earnings assignment

  1. Fill out a Stay of Service of Earnings Assignment Order (form FL-455)
  2. Make at least 2 copies of the form
  3. File the form. The clerk will write a court date on your copies.
  4. Have someone mail a copy of the filed form served on the other person and have the server complete the Proof of Service by mail on the 2nd page of the form. 
  5.  Go to the hearing and take the form with you to court so the judge can complete the order section on page 2. 
  6. Have someone mail (serve) a copy of the filed order to the other person.

If the judge agrees with your request, they will sign the order to stay service. This stops the earnings assignment from taking effect because it will not be served on your employer.

If you later stop making payments, your spouse can ask the judge to cancel the stay. If the judge agrees, the earnings assignment will get sent to your employer. 

It's possible for a judge to cancel an earnings assignment in a few situations. Usually, your spouse would need to agree. If you pay child support and the Local Child Support Agency is part of the case, they'll need to agree to this as well.

If your spouse does not agree, you would need to show that

  • You have a long history of paying support on time
  • You don't have any past due payments
  • Paying by earnings assignment is a hardship 

If you pay child support, you will also need to explain why it's in your child's best interest for support to not be taken directly from your pay.

How to ask to cancel an earnings assignment

You need to ask to cancel the earnings assignment as soon as find out about it. Once your employer receives the earnings assignment order, they should give you a copy of a blank Request for Hearing Regarding Earnings Assignment (form FL-450). You have 10 days from when you receive this form to fill it out and file it with the court. Page 3 of the form has more instructions and resources.

Fill out and file Request for Hearing Regarding Earnings Assignment (form FL-450). On the form, you can explain why you do not want the money taken directly from your pay. 

When you file the form, the clerk will give you a court date and send a copy to your spouse. On your court date, a judge will decide whether to cancel the order.

If you can't afford the amount taken from your pay

If you recently went to court and the judge ordered this amount, you probably can't change the earnings assignment unless something is incorrect or your financial situation changed. If your earnings assignment also includes payments of past-due support (arrearages), you may be able to have the amount you pay in past-due support each month lowered. 

You can ask to change support if your financial situation changed

If your financial situation changed since the judge last made a spousal support order, you can ask for a judge to change the amount of support you pay or even to end support.

Find out more about how to ask the judge to change the amount of temporary or long-term spousal support you pay. Temporary spousal support is support paid before your divorce is final. Long-term spousal support is support yo pay after your divorce is final (you have a judgment).

If you also owe back support, you can ask to lower the amount you pay for those

If you missed support payments (have arrearages) and payments for past-due support are also taken by earnings assignment, you may be able to have the amount taken out lowered. 

If the LCSA is part of the case

If the LCSA is collecting the support, contact your local Child Support Agency first to see if they can change the amount. If they can't or they are not involved, you can file papers in court to ask a judge to change the amount.

Ask a judge to lower the amount

Fill out and file a Request for Order (form FL-300) and an Income and Expense Declaration (form FL-150). On your Form FL-300, check the box at item 8 (Other orders requested) and write in “Set monthly liquidation payment of $ (write in a reasonable amount).” The “liquidation payment” is the payment that goes toward your back support. 

Then, 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 at your court

illustration of someone asking for help

Your court's Self-Help Center can help you with earnings assignments or income withholding orders. If you need help with the forms or can't afford your basic needs and the support payments, talk to staff at your court's Family Law Facilitator or Self-Help Center.

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