Determining Spousal Support When Divorce Gets Ugly

Your Guide Spousal Maintenance and Alimony in Texas
Judge Dan Hinde

As a family law attorney, you know that spousal support can be one of the most contentious issues in a divorce. Perhaps your client is the higher-earning spouse, and you wish to minimize their spousal support obligations. Or maybe your client is the one who makes less money, and the goal is to maximize the spousal support they receive.

In either case, you need a vocational evaluation to optimize your client’s alimony position. In this article, we’ll illustrate how the vocational experts can help you with your spousal support goals.


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How Divorce Turns Ugly

Many spouses begin the divorce process with high hopes that the process will go smoothly and the separation will conclude amicably. However, during the process, a lot of information is disclosed that may turn the divorce into a nasty slugfest. Examples include:

  1. Negative talk. Friends and family either take sides or start talking badly about one or both of the spouses.
  2. Resentment. A spouse looks back at all the time they were married and starts to think about how they could have been doing something different or better during the time they were married.
  3. Fear. The divorce process can be daunting, and fear and worry are natural reactions, which turn to anger. This can lead to unpleasantness for all involved.
  4. Addiction. One of the spouses suffers from addiction and begins to blame the other for it.
  5. External factors. Divorce takes a while, and during that time, external negative factors can occur. For example, one of the spouses may become unhappy with their job or lose out on a promotion. It’s easy for them to blame the other spouse for their discontent.

Any or all of these can turn an amicable divorce into an ugly one, making life difficult for the divorcing spouses, their friends and family – and even the court.

The Court’s Challenge

Adjudicating divorce can be complicated. The two divorcing spouses, who have had a relationship for years or even decades, may use the process to pour out all their grief, hurt feelings, and resentments that have accumulated over time. 


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With all this information, the court must sift through the emotions, ignore extraneous allegations, and focus on the relevant facts and legal issues. One of these easily lost in all the information overload is the spouses’ relative earning capacities. In many cases, one spouse will be filing an application with the court for substantial spousal support.

Fortunately, most states allow and even encourage the court to get help. This assistance is available in the form of a vocational evaluation.

Vocational Experts and their Evaluations

A vocational expert has the training and experience necessary to quantify a person’s ability to earn an income. This process is called a vocational evaluation. It consists of a thorough appraisal of the person’s education, job skills, employment history, and comprehensive review of the labor market in the person’s geographical area.

The vocational expert looks at several factors to figure out a person’s employability, including their:


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  1. Age. Although age discrimination is illegal, a comprehensive study by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission concludes that it is still prevalent due to outdated and unfounded assumptions about older workers. People over 40 are still denied jobs based on their age regardless of their ability, education, and commitment. 
  2. Health. A person’s health impacts their ability to find work. If there are disabilities involved, this may have a further detrimental impact on employability prospects. 
  3. Education level. Not only is the level of education important, but the type of education is critical in today’s job market. Some degrees are given less value, while others are highly sought after.
  4. Marketability of skills. Even a person most skilled in a trade may not find work if their skills aren’t in demand. Compare the employment prospects of an expert in bookbinding with someone who has top-notch skills in cloud computing. 
  5. Work history. A person with employment gaps or lack of promotion has fewer prospects than a person who has consistent employment with a track record of promotions.

The next step is looking at the availability of employment opportunities in the person’s geographical region. This labor market survey examines the following issues:

  1. What specific jobs can the person perform?
  2. What are the wages or salaries available for each of these specific jobs?
  3. What are the job duties, including physical demands and educational or experiential requirements?
  4. What is the availability of such jobs in the person’s geographical area?

Armed with this information, the vocational expert prepares the vocational evaluation. They also get ready for settlement talks and trial. The vocational expert does this by being equipped to answer any anticipated questions and also preparing compelling exhibits that bring your client’s story to life. 

As a family law attorney, with this support, you are ready to present your case. This can either be used to minimize the earning capacity of your client or maximize the earning capacity of your client’s spouse.

Edmond Provder

Edmond Provder, CEO and Founder of Occupational Assessment Services (OAS), is a certified rehabilitation counselor, Diplomate of the American Board of Vocational Experts, Commissioner of LCP and certified life care planner who has provided services for the severely disabled since 1973. Provder is credentialed by the American Board of Vocational Experts, the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification and the International Academy of Life Care Planners. Provder has provided rehabilitation services to over 6,000 individuals. He has provided expert witness testimonies in hundreds of cases throughout the country. You can contact him at 800-292-1919 or via OAS’s website

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