Should You Request a Vocational Examination in Your Divorce Case?


Some issues in a divorce case will revolve around a person’s income or ability to earn a certain amount of income. These include spousal support (also called alimony or maintenance) and child support. In some situations, it might be appropriate to request that your spouse undergo a vocational examination, or your spouse’s attorney might request that you undergo an examination. Your attorney can advise you on whether a vocational exam can help in your divorce case.

What is a Vocational Examination?

A vocational examination involves sitting down for an interview with a professional with training and experience with employment-related issues. The interview might involve questions regarding:

  • Age and health
  • Education
  • Special skills
  • Training
  • Employment experience
  • Income history

The vocational expert is not trying to find employment for the interviewee, but instead, to determine the potential employment and earning opportunities that might be available to them. The professional should also consider the current job market, as well as the marketability of the interviewee’s particular skills. The expert will then write a report assessing how much the person should likely be able to earn if they properly search for employment.

This interview can take an hour or two, and the price of the examination varies. However, the analysis and expert testimony (if needed) of the vocational professional can be highly valuable when determining spousal or child support awards.

Support Orders

Spousal and child support determinations are based on the income of the respective spouses. For example, spousal support is often awarded if one spouse earns significantly more than the other. This might be common if one spouse stayed home or worked part-time to care for children and the household, while the other spouse was the primary earner for the family. The higher-earning spouse might be ordered to provide spousal support payments to give the other spouse time to find suitable employment.

Similarly, child support calculations take the income of both parents into account, and the amount of child support ordered should be relative to the paying parent’s income level. Both types of support orders are closely tied to each spouse’s income.

How a Vocational Exam can Impact a Divorce Case

There are many situations in which a spouse is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, and this can have an impact on support decisions. California family courts are aware that certain individuals might purposely reduce their income, hoping to also reduce their support obligations. In these situations, a vocational examination can inform the court of the spouse’s true earning potential so the court can impute income.

Income can be imputed for the purposes of support determinations in the following manner:

  • A spouse who would be paying child support has a job that pays $30,000 per year
  • A vocational expert conducts an examination and, based on their findings, reports to the court that the spouse has the ability to be earning $90,000 per year
  • The court can find that the spouse is voluntarily underemployed, and can impute up to $90,000 in income to the spouse for the purposes of the child support calculation

The same can be true of a spousal support determination if the spouse who would pay support suddenly becomes underemployed or unemployed.

On the other hand, a spouse seeking spousal support might be requested to undergo a vocational examination. Some spouses have been staying home and out of the workforce for years, which can impact their ability to find suitable employment right away. This situation might warrant the need for spousal support as they gain the education, training, skills, or experience needed to properly support themselves.

However, some spouses have only been away from their careers for a relatively short period of time. A spouse in this situation might request support, claiming that it will take them some time to find the right job when, in reality, there are suitable opportunities available to them right now. A spouse should not be receiving support when they could earn a proper living, but simply want more time away from the workforce.

In this case, a vocational expert can report to the judge whether or not the spouse requesting support should need time to find the right job, or whether they should be able to find suitable employment fairly quickly based on their resume and the job market.

Using Vocational Exam Reports as a Negotiating Tool

Not all results of vocational examinations need to be presented to the court. Once you receive the vocational report, your attorney might be able to use the report as a negotiating tool with your spouse’s attorney.

For example, your spouse claims that they cannot find employment right away and needs spousal support for a period of time. However, the vocational expert reports that they should be able to find work and start earning a sufficient living in half that amount of time. Your attorney can use this report to negotiate spousal support for the shorter period of time. Often, a spouse’s lawyer will realize that the judge might have similar findings, so they are more willing to reach an agreement out of court.

Even though a vocational examination costs extra money, it can often save the money it would take to bring the matter of spousal support or child support before the court. Trial takes significantly more resources than out-of-court negotiations, and vocational exam results can help resolve support matters favorably without the need for court involvement.

Independent Vocational Exams

If your spouse requests that you undergo a vocational examination conducted by their chosen vocational expert, you have the opportunity to undergo another exam conducted by an independent expert of your choice. You can compare the results to determine whether your spouse’s expert was biased or mistaken in their report. This can give you leverage if you are requesting spousal support or being requested to pay child support.

The best way to know if you should request a vocational examination of your spouse or an independent examination for yourself is to consult with an experienced California divorce attorney.