This episode is about vocational experts in divorce cases. Vocational experts are only used occasionally, but they should probably be used more often.
What is a vocational expert? Often during a marriage, one spouse was not employed. They may have lost their job or they may have decided to be a stay-at-home spouse. It does not necessarily mean that they were unable to work, however. A vocational expert will help answer the question, “How do you know how much income a spouse can earn if they have not been working?”
As an example, a female client has a husband who holds a PhD and was in the military, but who chooses not to work. The client herself is a doctor. The husband is trying to get spousal support so that he can continue to be unemployed and be supported by his ex-wife. However, this gentleman could easily get a job because he is highly qualified.
In another case, the wife worked for a while early in the marriage, making $75,000 a year. However, when the couple had children, she stopped working so that she could dedicate the next twenty years of her life to being a stay-at-home mother. In this scenario, the wife is still capable of working, but has been out of the work force for such a long time that it will be difficult to immediately find a position like the one that she left when she had children. However, she does have some skills and a college degree.
In this scenario, the husband should consider getting a vocational expert to help determine how much income the wife might be capable of earning.
It’s important to factor in a spouse’s earning potential into things like spousal support and division of assets. Just because a spouse has not been working does not mean they cannot. If a person getting divorced is 50 years old, they could still feasibly have 15-17 years of working life ahead of them. They may need to start at a lower income level and work their way up, but whatever income they are earning should decrease the spousal support they receive.
This is why a spouse’s earning potential is a controversial issue. A vocational expert can evaluate a person’s abilities, education, and experience to determine their potential for employment. They will determine whether that person can find a job, and how much it might pay. If the person has not worked in a long time, they may start at an entry-level position. However, it can also be the case that the spouse is capable of earning a good salary, as in the example with the husband who holds a PhD.
You can present the vocational expert’s findings as evidence in court, whichever side of this debate you are on. If you are the spouse who has been working, a vocational expert can help you make the case that your spouse is capable of earning money, which can reduce your spousal support and/or child support. Conversely, if you are the spouse who has not been working, a vocational expert can help you establish that your career prospects are slim and that you need the spousal support. You can also use a vocational expert, outside of the context of the divorce, to help you assess your career options and make a plan for yourself.
Vocational experts are very persuasive in court because they are independent. Their goal is to present the facts of the person’s experience, education and skills and assess what kind of jobs and salaries they may be able to get. They are an important resource to consider for your divorce.
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