What if Your Ex Chooses Not to Work?


It is no surprise that divorce is so stressful it can push seemingly reasonable people to make extremely unreasonable choices. For example, if your ex has chosen to drop out of the workforce – or to work well below capacity – in order to thwart child support and/or alimony payments, you’ve got a problem on your hands. Fortunately, the courts do not take kindly to such antics, and an experienced family law attorney can help you solve the very real problem of an ex who chooses not to work.

Considering Child Support

Child support plays an important role in every divorce involving shared children, and it is based on exacting state guidelines that focus on the following two primary considerations:

  • Whom the children live with the majority of the time
  • Each parent’s separate earnings

Both parents are responsible for contributing to their children’s ongoing financial support, which should be in keeping with the lifestyle the children would have enjoyed if the marriage hadn’t ended in divorce (or as close to this standard as possible). As such, each parent is responsible for contributing in direct relation to his or her financial ability to do so. In other words, even if you and your ex share your time with your children exactly equally, the higher earner between the two of you will likely be ordered to pay child support to the other.

If Your Ex Stops Working

Because child support is calculated in accordance with each parent’s earnings, some parents get the clever idea to simply quit working and, by so doing, seemingly wiping out their responsibility to pay child support. This is not, however, how it works.

Every state takes parental responsibilities extremely seriously, and child support is considered a parental obligation that is critical to its recipients’ (your children’s) ongoing growth and development. As such, courts take a very dim view of parents who attempt to pull financial fast ones by simply not working – or by earning far less than they are capable of – in an effort to get out of paying the amount of child support they owe. These parents may think they are punishing their exes (the child-support recipients), but they are actually depriving their children of the financial support they need and to which they are entitled.

Imputing Income

If the court recognizes that your ex is up to financial shenanigans, it will likely impute income to him or her. This means that the court will calculate the child support owed you in accordance with what your ex should be earning or would be earning (if he or she wasn’t engaging in nefarious practices). The court will almost always require evidence of their income earning ability and opportunity, which often requires the expert analysis and testimony of a vocational examiner.

The matter is different if your ex is laid off or loses his or her job due to circumstances beyond his or her control (the global pandemic is a prime example). An important note, however, is that there are no automatic decreases (or increases) in court-ordered child support. If your ex experiences a decrease in earnings for any reason, he or she will need to request a child support modification.

Considering Alimony

If your ex chooses not to work, it can also affect your alimony (or spousal support). Not every divorce leads to one spouse paying alimony to the other, but when it is appropriate, it amounts to an attempt to balance one spouse’s divorce-related financial deficit with the other spouse’s ability to help offset this deficit.

For example, if Spouse A gave up his or her career to support Spouse B’s career and to take care of the home and shared children for 20 years, the court will take this contribution into careful consideration. If Spouse B’s career continues to provide for him or her very nicely while Spouse A is unemployed and incapable of earning enough to support himself or herself financially (at a level that approaches the one enjoyed during the marriage), Spouse B will very likely be ordered to pay alimony to Spouse A.

The Factors that Affect Alimony

Wide-ranging factors go into determining whether alimony is appropriate, and if so, what its amount and duration should be, including:

  • The recipient’s marketable skills
  • The market for these skills
  • The time and expense the recipient would require to obtain the education, training, and/or experience necessary to hone more marketable skills and/or to find a job
  • The extent to which the recipient’s earning power was impaired by his or her contributions to the marriage (time spent dedicated to domestic duties)
  • The length of the marriage
  • Any documented evidence or history of domestic violence in the marriage

Possible Tactics

If your ex quits his or her job – or threatens to – in an attempt to owe you less in terms of alimony, he or she is not the first and will not be the last. The fact is that the court is not that gullible and is not so easily duped. If your ex had a high-paying business career and is now exploring his or her life-long dream of selling movie tickets, the court is likely not going to buy in and will almost certainly calculate your alimony payments in accordance with his or her ability to earn (rather than his or her actual earnings).

It is not uncommon for a payor to get angry at the thought of providing support to an ex, but rendering oneself unemployed or underemployed is an exceptionally immature approach that will not do anyone any good. If you’ve been awarded alimony, there is a verifiable reason for it, and the court is not going to allow your ex to shirk this important financial obligation.

Your Case

If you have been affected by an ex who chooses not to work, it is important to recognize that you have rights and that an accomplished family law attorney can help you protect them. The courts are savvy to financially dubious practices, such as your ex’s, and with professional legal counsel in your corner, you’ll be well-prepared to protect yourself from whatever financial tactics your ex tries to use.