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Using vocational experts for spousal support determinations

One of the key considerations for determining spousal support is determining the earning capacity of each individual involved in the divorce. This is true of child support as well, but unlike child support, spousal support is not guaranteed. It takes the help of a skilled lawyer, and sometimes, the use of a vocational expert to determine whether spousal support should be included in a final decree for divorce.

Vocational training counselors typically get involved in divorces where spouses have significant disparities in income. For example, one spouse may be an executive currently making six figures, while the other is a stay-at-home parent and used to work as an elementary schoolteacher. Such a disparity may give rise to an issue where the executive will end up paying spousal support to the schoolteacher, who may no longer have the necessary skills to go out and get a new job right away.

Vocational experts help people analyze their employability given their individual marketable skills and the current job market. They often administer special tests designed to help individuals understand their skill set and job preferences. They will then combine this data with information about a person’s previous employment history, age, health and education, to recommend certain jobs or industries that might be suitable to the job applicant.

According to California’s Family Code 4331, one party must file a motion to the court to request examination by a vocational counselor. Typically, the person who will likely be paying spousal support, or his or her lawyer, will file this motion. The court can also order vocational testing so it can make a fair assessment of spousal support.

Using vocational assessment can be helpful in ensuring a spousal support order does not go on forever, but it can backfire as well. For example, the court could determine that in addition to temporary spousal support, a payor should cover the costs of retraining or education so that the payee can “get back on their feet” again. Of course, this initial investment may be worth it in the long run to ensure the payee does not simply sit back and “freeload” for the foreseeable future.

As with all things related to your divorce, only the assistance of an experienced family law attorney can help you determine whether using vocational experts will help or hinder your case.