Spousal Support

Employment Considerations in Spousal Support Disputes

Factors Related to Support Issues

California Family Code § 4320 outlines the considerations that courts must take into account when ruling on matters involving spousal support. A significant number of those considerations revolve around the economic status of the parties, including their employment prospects. Importantly, California’s statutory spousal support factors relate a lot to a spouse’s employability.

Section 4320 also lists several factors that courts are required to consider when addressing spousal support issues:

  • “The extent to which the supported party contributed to the attainment of an education, training, a career position, or a license by the supporting party.
  • The ability of the supporting party to pay spousal support, taking into account the supporting party’s earning capacity, earned and unearned income, assets, and standard of living.
  • The ability of the supported party to engage in gainful employment without unduly interfering with the interests of dependent children in the custody of the party.
  • The immediate and specific tax consequences to each party.
  • The goal that the supported party shall be self-supporting within a reasonable period of time.”

The earning capacity of a party in a spousal support matter can be a critical factor in determining one’s rights or obligations concerning spousal support.

Generally, courts consider the parties’ financial assets when determining issues of spousal support. This process is like how state and federal tax agencies figure out a person’s tax liability. When a person files their tax returns, they are required to add all sources of income together, deducting certain expenses from that sum. The resulting calculation serves as the basis from which their tax obligations are calculated.

Similarly, in spousal support cases, courts sum up each spouse’s financial assets, also deducting particular expenses from the total. The subsequent figure for each spouse is the basis for establishing one spouse’s post-divorce financial needs and the other spouse’s ability to cover those needs. Additionally, the calculation for child support follows a comparable process.

Seeking Employment After Divorce

The decision of whether to pursue work opportunities after getting divorced depends on the specific circumstances of each case. California Family Code§ 4320 reads, “The extent to which the earning capacity of each party is sufficient to maintain the standard of living established during the marriage, taking into account…[t]he marketable skills of the supported party; the job market for those skills; the time and expenses required for the supported party to acquire the appropriate education or training to develop those skills; and the possible need for retraining or education to acquire other, more marketable skills or employment.”

Thus, the earning potential of a spouse can impact the amount of support they are entitled to receive. Generally, the length of the parties’ marriage impacts the duration that a spousal support obligation is effective. In California, marriages which last ten years or longer are considered long-term marriages, justifying courts in fashioning a support obligation indefinitely.

As a result, a person’s decision to go back to school or reenter the workforce after a long marriage can have a direct impact on how much spousal support they owe or are owed. In some cases, resuming vocational education or training can signify a serious attempt at becoming economically independent of their ex.

Vocational Evaluations

When evaluating a spouse’s earning capacity for purposes of determining spousal support, a court can consider the findings of “vocational evaluation,” where a vocational expert assesses a person’s ability to find gainful employment. Such vocational professionals serve as expert witnesses, whose findings and professional opinion may have significant evidentiary weight when resolving spousal support issues.

For example, a vocational evaluation can help illuminate whether a spouse is trying to minimize their support obligation, or whether a spouse is inflating their financial needs to maximize their entitlement to support.

In cases where abilities do not accurately reflect their skill, education, and training levels, courts can use one’s education and experience as evidence that they should be earning a greater amount than they do. Consequently, a court can impute income to a spouse—effectively adding income to a person’s financials, creating a legal fiction that they earn more than they claim.

Fenchel Family Law Offers Experienced Legal Advice for California Families

You should not have to endure the challenges of advocating for you and your family’s interests during a California family law dispute. Serious issues demand serious law professionals with effective legal solutions. Our team at Fenchel Family Law is here to guide you through sophisticated legal matters involving California family law to help protect your legal interests.

Contact Fenchel Family Law online to schedule an initial consultation about your case or call our firm today at (415) 650-1112 to make an appointment.

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