California Spousal Support and Vocational Evaluations


To receive spousal support in California – whether while the divorce is pending or post-divorce – the recipient must demonstrate a verifiable need, and the payor must have the means to pay. While it may sound straightforward, this aspect of divorce often becomes quite complicated and can stall the legal process considerably.

One factor that often throws a wrench into the works is the matter of whether a spouse is earning at capacity. When either spouse is underemployed or unemployed, voluntarily or otherwise, it skews the calculation process and can leave a spouse who should receive spousal support with less or can leave the spouse who pays spousal support on the hook for far more than they will otherwise be required to pay. California courts address this artificial effect with vocational evaluations. If you have questions or concerns related to spousal support and vocational evaluations, reach out to an experienced California spousal support attorney today.

Your Spouse’s Earning Capacity

Your spouse’s earning capacity will be measured in terms of their ability to earn in relation to all the following:

  • Their age
  • Their overall health
  • Their level of education
  • Their marketable skills
  • Their employment history
  • Their overall employment opportunities in the region in which they live

If you can demonstrate that your spouse has the ability to earn more than they currently are and that the opportunity to do so is there, the court handling your case has the discretion to impute income, which amounts to considering the income they should be earning rather than the income they are, which can increase your spousal support in the process. Without this information, the court can only speculate, which lies outside their powers of discretion.

The Opportunity

Your divorcing spouse may have the education, skill, and experience to earn more, but if they have no opportunity to do so, it’s a moot point. Opportunity is often the missing link when it comes to ensuring that spousal support is set appropriately. As such, the courts turn to vocational evaluations that provide a comprehensive picture of how much a specific individual can likely earn in the current job market.


In order for the court to impute income – or to assign an amount of income the supporting spouse should and can be earning – there is no requirement regarding intention, which means you don’t have to prove that your spouse intentionally earned less to thwart the spousal support calculation process. If, however, you can prove that your spouse purposefully earned less to pay you less spousal support, they may be sanctioned by the court for your attorney fees.

How a Vocational Evaluation Can Help

When a California court needs to determine if a spouse is earning at the top of their earning potential – or is gaming the system – it turns to vocational expertise. Vocational experts have extensive training in evaluating a person’s overall ability to earn via a rigorous process that carefully considers their vocational abilities in relation to the job market in the specific region in question. Either side of the spousal support question can request a vocational evaluation.

Consider the following:

  • The spouse who is entitled to spousal support can question whether or not the spouse who is required to pay it is earning less than they are capable of, thus decreasing their spousal support obligation.
  • The spouse who is required to pay spousal support can question whether or not the recipient has the ability to earn more than they are, thus artificially increasing their need for support.

While the judge handling your case is not required to take the vocational expert’s opinion into consideration, they tend to do so. Without this expert opinion, the issue is likely to come down to one side against the other, which does not give the court as much solid information on which to base its decision.

Discuss Your Case with an Experienced California Spousal Support Attorney Today

Spousal support plays an important role in many divorces, but if it isn’t based on the amount the payor is capable of earning or if the recipient’s actual ability to support themself isn’t accurately represented, the payments can be skewed considerably. Regardless of which side of this equation you’re on, getting to the bottom of the matter generally involves obtaining a vocational evaluation that provides a thorough accounting, and having a dedicated California spousal support attorney on your side is well advised.