Once you do embark upon the separation or divorce process, it is very important to remember three key things: Be kind, be reasonable, be brief. Remember that this person will no longer be your spouse, but he or she will continue to be your co-parent, family member, and perhaps a business partner in certain assets or entities. –  Laura Wasser

When a vocational expert is needed

As a forensic and vocational expert, it is not uncommon to be called as an expert to opine about spousal support in a divorce. It’s been my experience that the court considers each spouse’s gross income and reduces this amount by subtracting mandatory deductions to determine net income. Mandatory deductions include income taxes, social security, and healthcare.

Spousal Support

The courts where I have testified do not consider union dues as mandatory, and will not deduct them from the gross salary. The courts put a higher priority on support payments than voluntary debts, and would rather see voluntary debt not paid than have a spouse go without adequate support.

Ability to Earn:

Both spouses’ ability to earn is taken into consideration when it spousal support (formerly commonly referred to as “alimony”).  The courts not only consider what a spouse actually earns, but also what the spouse is capable of earning.  Thus a spouse with highly marketable skills who chooses not to work (or to work in a job in which he or she would generally be considered “underemployed”) may face a court that will attribute a much higher gross income to that spouse than the spouse is actually making.

Ability to Self – Support:

Whether a spouse has marketable skills and is able to work outside the home is something the courts take into consideration. Having custody of preschool-aged children and no access to daycare doesn’t make it impossible for spouse parent to work outside the home, but it may affect how long such person might receive spousal support.

For example, spousal support may be payable until younger children are in full-time school. If a child is disabled, the custodial parent might have extended spousal support if both parents are not involved in the day-to-day care of the disabled child.

Standard of Living During Marriage:

When a court sets spousal support, it often considers the standard of living during the marriage and tries to maintain this standard for both spouses where possible. Maintenance of a standard of living is more of a goal when it comes to spousal support than a guarantee.

When one spouse has been the homemaker and has either not worked in several years or has never worked at all, a vocational expert should be consulted in order to determine the non-working spouse’s realistic ability to earn a living, and for how long it will be until such spouse is capable of supporting herself or himself post-divorce.

Length of Marriage:

If a marriage is relatively short and there are no children, the courts may refuse to award spousal support.

Court Discretion: 

In some states, the court is required (or is encouraged) to take into account various factors when considering support, such as  the amount of financial support given during a marriage, the amount of emotional support provided, whether a spouse gave up a career in order to take care of children, or other factors.  Ultimately, in most cases, the court will have fairly wide latitude in determining how much support will be paid and for how long.

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