Can an alimony decree be enforced?

The enforcement of an alimony decree is governed by statute, which provides for various avenues of relief, including:

  • the remedy of arrest and bail
  • the remedies and attachment and garnishment
  • the remedy of injunction
  • receivership
  • enforcement by proceedings for civil contempt and the punishment of disobedience by proceedings for criminal contempt
  • and execution, execution sales and supplemental proceedings.

For purposes of attachment and garnishment, the statute provides that the spouse is deemed a creditor of the supporting spouse. A dependent spouse is expressly designated in the alimony statutes as “a creditor within the meaning of Article 3 of Chapter 39 of the General Statutes pertaining to fraudulent conveyances.” Any of the enforcement means specifically enumerated in the statutes is in addition to any other available remedies, rather than exclusive.

Even if a supporting spouse has appealed an order for periodic alimony, the dependent spouse may still have the trial court enforce its order by civil contempt while the appeal is pending. This is an exception to the usual rule that an appeal removes a case from the jurisdiction of the trial court.

Past-due periodic alimony payments, reduced to judgment by motion in the cause or by separation action, become a judgment lien on which execution may issue as with other judgments.

As mentioned above, the execution sales and supplemental proceedings remedies in Chapter 29B and 31 are available for the enforcement of alimony judgments, “but amounts so payable shall not constitute a debt as to which property is exempt from execution” under Chapter 1C.

The enforcement of alimony payable under a separation agreement is governed, of course, by rules of contract law and contract enforcement. The separation agreement may provide for incorporation into a judgment (which would make the amount of alimony modifiable). The agreement can also state whether alimony is or is not subject to modification.

Spousal support provisions in a separation agreement that have not been incorporated into a court order cannot be modified by a court except with the consent of the parties. The intent of the parties will be interpreted and then enforced by a court if the dependent spouse brings suit for breach of an unincorporated alimony contract.

Specific performance or damages may be awarded by the court, as is appropriate to the facts of the particular case. The court may secure an obligation to pay alimony by bond, mortgage, deed of trust, or any other ordinary security device.

The court may also achieve security of payment of the alimony obligation by ordering the supporting spouse to execute a wage or income assignment. The court may create a security interest in real property for the benefit of an alimony recipient. Further, the court may also enter an order which shall transfer title of property which the dependent spouse is receiving as alimony or to which a security interest is being attached.