Using salary seizure to obtain maintenance payment following a divorce

Last updated more than 5 years ago

In most cases, a divorce ruling specifies, beyond the divorce itself, the allocation of maintenance to one of the spouses, the amount of which may vary depending on the circumstances of the case.

In spite of these rulings, it often happens in practice that the person who owes support, i.e. the spouse who is ordered to pay maintenance to the other, suddenly stops obeying the order – i.e. from one day to the next, they cease paying the monthly maintenance amounts.

The law allows for a specific two-phase process for the recovery of unpaid amounts using seizure of salary.

Who is concerned

This information is applicable to divorced spouses who are maintenance creditors – i.e. those to whom the divorce ruling orders payment of maintenance by the other spouse, who is the maintenance debtor.

How to proceed

Protective phase of salary seizure

The creditor must call upon the Justice of the Peace so that the court, following a review of the alleged due payment and the related ruling, can grant the seizure order.

The procedure is initiated by submitting a petition, on paper, together with the documentation and up-to-date accounts.

To avoid any problems in the accounting, the petitioners are invited to specify, in their request:

  • the receivable amount of money owed;
  • if the receivable is paid on a monthly basis;
  • if interests are claimed and if so, the amount or amounts on which interest is calculated.

In fact, according to case law, the amount for which seizure is approved (enforcement phase) cannot exceed the amount for which the authorisation was granted (protective phase).

This procedure does not require the help of a lawyer and the times taken to process the file are reasonably short.

If the Justice of the Peace authorises the seizure, the clerk of the Justice of the Peace will inform the employer of the debtor of the unpaid support. The employer must make an affirmative declaration specifying that they are the debtor's current employer and the nature (salary, pension or other) and the amount of the debtor's income. In such a case, the employer must withhold the monthly amounts as claimed while waiting for the approval of seizure (enforcement phase). If it is not the case, the employer must make a negative declaration.

It may happen that the parties agree on the immediate continuation of the monthly amounts withheld even before a ruling for approval of seizure is issued.

Enforcement phase

For the employer to continue to pay the amounts to the creditor, a new ruling must be issued by the Justice of the Peace (approving the seizure), a procedure in which the support debtor, the creditor and the employer are called to present their positions.

The creditor must call on the Justice of the Peace in a letter and, at the hearing, produce the divorce ruling compelling the debtor to pay the support, as well as the account for the seizure order to be approved, so the employer can continue withholding the amounts in the meantime for the creditor.

The Justice of the Peace may also be called on by the debtor for cancellation and release from seizure when they believe the amounts withheld are not due.

This procedure does not require the help of a lawyer and the files tend to be processed reasonably quickly.

Although, in theory, a portion of the salary cannot be seized, the law specifies an exception for the payment of maintenance debt for which the current monthly amount will be withheld each month from the unseizable amounts.

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