I have heard on more than one occasion from a client that their spouse or ex-spouse isn’t earning nearly as much income as he/she may be capable of earning.  This statement is often made in the face of an alimony or child support calculation.  What happens if this is in fact true?

During the divorce process one of the more common ways to determine how much income a spouse can earn is to have them evaluated by an employability expert.  Now if you look up “employability expert” as a qualified profession or a course of study available in a college course book, I doubt that you would find it in there.  Like many other things, employability experts arose out of a need in the legal profession to have an individual with the proper experience, knowledge and background meet with an individual and assess their skill set to determine what kind of employment they may be eligible to obtain. Viola- a new niche profession is born!

So what about after a divorce is finalized and an ex-spouse is either unemployed (because of the economy, the job market or they simply refuse to work) or is underemployed (earning less than they had previously earned either by choice or no fault of their own) and a support obligation exists?  What does the court then rely upon when addressing the recalculation of a support award?


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In an interesting unreported decision released on August 3, 2009 entitled Mathias v. Mathias, a wife was granted both permanent and rehabilitation alimony after a 15 year marriage. 

In this case, the husband was a state trooper.  The wife had cared for the children, by agreement, though she had worked on and off as a cosmetologist.  She was attending college seeking to be a registered nurse at the time of trial.

The trial judge imputed two income figures to the wife.  One as to what she was earning at the time and what she could earn in the future as a nurse.  The matter was reversed and remanded for further consideration as to both.  For the current income, there was a finding that the wife was underemployed yet the Court used her current income.  For the future, the statistics from the department of labor as to what a registered nurse could earn were used. 


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As previously reported in this Blog here and here, New Jersey has taken the initiative on penalizing individuals who fail to pay their court-ordered child support or who have failed to show up for court hearings.  In just one week in December 2008, nearly 1,000 delinquent individuals were rounded up as part of the

Can a prior judicial determination regarding an ex-spouse’s employment situation preclude the other party from subsequently making an issue out of it when faced with a motion to modify child support? That was the unique issue taken on by the Appellate Division in Simon v. Simon, where the Appellate Division gave preclusive effect to a prior judicial holding regarding the reason why the ex-spouse husband left his job and his resulting subsequent income in deciding a motion to reduce child support.

The parties entered into a Property Settlement Agreement in 2001, wherein the husband agreed to pay child support for their three children at a set amount through the end of 2005, at which point his support obligation would be reevaluated pursuant to the Child Support Guidelines. In 2006, the husband left his employer and obtained a job in Florida because he was allegedly unable to find suitable work in the Princeton, New Jersey area where he lived. As his new job was in Florida, the husband initially lived there with his father, thereby substantially reducing his parenting time with his biological children. 

 

In spring 2006, the wife moved for a child support increase, alleging that the husband provided no justification for his relocation to Florida, that her parenting time and related expenses increased due to the husband’s reduced parenting time attributable to the move, and because such expenses would only increase as her alimony was ending. The husband cross-moved to modify his support obligation, arguing that he involuntarily left his employer and was forced to take a substantial salary reduction in Florida because he was unable to obtain a position in New Jersey at a salary higher than that he received from his Florida employer. Responding to the husband’s claims, the wife asserted that he left his employment voluntarily so that he could commence his retirement in Florida and, as a result, the Court should use his 2004 and 2005 income to determine support. She submitted no evidence, however, of the husband’s ability to earn a higher salary in the metropolitan area. Ultimately, the Court found that the husband’s 2006 income should apply.

 


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One need only pick up any newspaper, turn on any radio or television or even have water cooler conversation, even with those who never used to speak about the economy, to know of the serious economic crisis that this country and the world appear to be facing.  Even today, we read that the stock markets

In order to determine alimony and child support, the court must know what both parties earn.  In fact, the child support and alimony statute requires the court to look at the parents "earning ability" (in the child support statute) and "earning capacities" (in the alimony statute).  Don’t ask me why the terminology is different but the