man in distress

This comes up over and over.  Ex spouse gets a reduction in income at work for one reason or another.  Ex spouse is paying child support and/or alimony.  Ex spouse decides he/she will lower the amount of child support and/or alimony due to the lower income.  Ex spouse looks online, pulls up the child support chart or child support law for his/her particular state.  Ex spouse calculates what the alimony and/or child support "should" be.  Ex spouse then starts paying this "new" amount.

If you do what ex spouse has done above do not be surprised to be hit with a motion for contempt of court from your former spouse.  Such was the situation in Dixon v. Dixon, just decided by the Arkansas Court of Appeals.

Here are the facts: The parties divorced on May 17, 2001, after thirty-eight years of marriage. The divorce decree stated that “David H. Dixon agrees to pay alimony in a total sum of $3,250.00 a month to Mary E. Dixon for as long as he is employed full-time at Riverside Furniture Corporation.” Following the divorce, Mr. Dixon made the monthly payments faithfully through April 2008, at which time the payments ceased. On March 7, 2011, nearly three years later, Ms. Dixon moved for declaratory judgment and for contempt, asking the circuit court to determine whether Mr. Dixon owed a continuing duty to pay alimony and, if so, to find him in contempt for nonpayment.

Later in the opinion, the court states: The essence of Mr. Dixon’s argument is that a person cannot be considered a full-time employee if the person works less than forty hours per week. We see no error in the circuit court’s finding that Mr. Dixon works full time, despite his testimony that he works only eighteen to twenty-two hours per week. According to the testimony, it was Mr. Dixon’s choice to reduce his work hours, and although he did experience some reduction in his income, that reduction was not related to the number of hours he worked.

The ex Ms. Dixon filed for contempt over 3 years later.   The resulting arrearage from not paying for those years was a whopping $133,250, and a judgment was entered against Mr. Dixon for that amount.  This will likely show up on his credit report.

I don't know what happened behind the scenes in this particular case, but I can easily speculate on what could happen with others that are in the same situation as Mr. Dixon.  I could see a person obtaining the advice of an attorney and providing that attorney with the above facts.  I can see an attorney saying something along the lines of "Well, if you aren't working full-time then it doesn't look like you have to pay the alimony anymore pursuant to the terms of the divorce decree."  I can also see the flip side - an attorney saying "Well, you run the risk that the judge will find that you are simply trying to avoid alimony by working a few less hours per week - and that your income is mostly the same as it was at the time the divorce decree was entered - and that therefore you still owe alimony." And I can see some people not consulting an attorney at all and just stopping the alimony payments on their own.

Either way, it seems that the best course of action is to get an order from the court terminating the alimony OR having the court determine that you still have to pay it.  Then you can avoid the entire contempt proceeding, a huge alimony arrearage, the entry of a judgment against you which is very likely to end up on your credit report, and the equally likely possibility of paying your ex's attorney fees and costs.  

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