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What if Your Ex Chooses Not to Work to Avoid Paying Support?

Posted by Lee Zavatsky | Nov 16, 2022

Most divorces are traumatic, life-changing events for married couples, their children, and their relatives. The stress often leads to bad decisions, such as when a spouse voluntarily decides not to work, even though capable, to avoid paying their support obligations, such as child support and alimony.

In a state the size of California with a high divorce rate, the family law courts have already seen all the tricks by spouses to avoid paying support.  In other words, judges are familiar with these tactics and don't take kindly to anyone using them, especially when kids are involved.

What if Your Ex Chooses Not to Work to Avoid Paying Support?
Some spouses will voluntarily choose to be unemployed to avoid paying support obligations.

In a divorce, child support payments are a crucial part of what's in the children's best interest, which is always the primary concern of judges. The amount of support is based on state guidelines focusing on the parent's income and where the kids will live most of the time.

Everyone knows that both parents are legally responsible for financially supporting their children. The goal of the family courts is to ensure the children will maintain the same standard of living, or as close as possible, after the divorce.

Thus, parents are required to contribute financially based on their ability. If you and your spouse spend an equal amount of time with the kids after the divorce, the spouse with the higher income will still typically be ordered by the court to pay child support to the other parent.

While this might seem unfair to some parents, it's not about you. The child's best interest is always the top priority in all family law courtrooms across the state. Our California family law and divorce attorneys will look closely at this topic below.

What If My Spouse Suddenly Stops Working?

Since child support is calculated primarily based on the income of the parent paying support, some parents think that if they just suddenly quit working, they will become excluded from having to pay child support since they will have no income to calculate in the first place.

Judges have seen it all. This is not how it works. You will quickly find yourself in the court's doghouse. 

California family law courts consider parental financial responsibilities a serious matter. Child support is a parent's legal obligation because, as noted above, it's in your child's best interest.

So, suppose you are thinking of being clever by quitting your job on purpose, or earning far less than capable, to avoid support obligations. In that case, you should know the judge will not be happy and could rule against you on essential divorce issues. 

Further, while it may seem you are “getting back” at your ex-spouse, you are depriving your children of the financial support they need.

What is Imputing Income?

Suppose the family court has valid reasons to believe your spouse is up to some financial trickery to avoid paying support obligations. In that case, they have the discretion to impute income on them. What does that mean exactly?

It means the court will calculate child support based on what your ex-spouse should or would be earning if not engaging in their tactics to avoid paying support.

However, you need to understand that the court will need some hard evidence of their income-earning ability and opportunity, which could require a review and testimony of a vocational examiner.

Imputing income is far different from your ex-spouse getting laid off from their job or losing their source of income based on circumstances beyond their control. If this occurs, they would need to request a child support modification.

What About Spousal Support?

If your ex-spouse chooses not to work, it could also impact spousal support, called “alimony.”

California Family Code 4320
Spousal support is designed to help a lesser-earning spouse maintain a standard of living.

Not all California divorces involve alimony payments, but when ordered, they attempt to help a lesser-earning spouse with their financial obligations and maintain the same standard of living they enjoyed during the marriage.

In other words, the higher-earning spouse will provide temporary financial support until they can become self-sufficient.

Is your ex-spouse refusing to work? California Family Code 4320 says that when awarding alimony, the court must determine whether your spouse can become self-supporting within a reasonable period.

This means that higher earners are typically required to provide their spouse with alimony for a period after a marriage ends. Still, they will have to get a job at some point, but alimony could be awarded for longer.

Perhaps a spouse gave up their career to support their spouse's career or stay at home and take care of the kids. The court will consider this a significant factor. Numerous factors determine whether alimony is awarded, along with the amount and duration, such as:

  • length of the marriage;
  • contribution to spouse's career;
  • spouse's marketable skills and earning power;
  • expense and time to obtain higher education;
  • time to find suitable employment;
  • any history of domestic violence during marriage.

If your ex-spouse quits their job in an attempt to owe you less alimony, then they can be added to the long list of former spouses who had the same bad idea.

As noted above, the court knows about this tactic. Suppose your ex had a high-paying business career and is claiming they are conveniently broke. In that case, their alimony payments could be calculated based on their ability to earn rather than actual earnings.

Do You Know How a Family Law Attorney Can Help You?

A vocational exam defined under Family Code 4331 typically involves a vocational evaluator assessing your ex-spouse's ability to obtain employment while allowing them to maintain the standard of living they enjoyed during the marriage.

Los Angeles Family Law Attorney
Contact our family law attorneys for help.

They are helpful in divorce proceedings where spouses have disagreements on alimony.

It's not uncommon for a spouse to take drastic steps to avoid paying support obligations, even voluntarily making themselves unemployed or underemployed.

If you have been financially impacted by an ex-spouse who voluntarily chooses not to work to avoid paying support, you need to consult a family law lawyer who can help protect your rights.

The California family law courts are well-aware of these tactics. Still, you need professional legal representation to show them proof and guidance throughout the divorce proceedings.

Contact our law firm for a free case evaluation to review your case details and discuss legal options. Furman & Zavatsky are Los Angeles divorce and family law attorneys that help people across California.

About the Author

Lee Zavatsky

Lee Zavatsky is a partner at Furman & Zavatsky, a law firm dedicated to the practice of Family Law. Mr. Zavatsky has been selected as one of the Top 40 Under 40 by The National Trial Lawyers, a professional organization composed of the top trial lawyers from each state or region who are under the...

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