In re Marriage of McHugh When Spousal Unemployment in a Divorce Is Not Accidental

In re Marriage of McHugh: When Spousal Unemployment in a Divorce Is Not Accidental

Under California family law, both parents are expected to be financially responsible for their children. One parent often pays child support to the parent with a more significant custodial role. Courts base child support awards partially on the paying parent’s income. But what happens when that parent no longer has a job or other source of income? Even worse, what if spousal unemployment was not an accident?

What Happened in In re: Marriage of McHugh?

Charles and Connie McHugh were married in 1992. Before their separation in September 2009, they had one child. Charles filed for divorce, then Connie immediately asked the court to grant temporary child and spousal support. The court based the award amount on Charles’s monthly income of $24,149. He was a salesman for Amcor Packaging Distribution (Amcor), while Connie was a stay-at-home mom.

A few short months later, Charles asked the court to reduce his spousal and child support payments. He claimed “drastic income reduction” because he had lost his largest client at Amcor. The judge lowered his support payment.

In August 2011, Connie asked the court to set aside the order. Charles simultaneously asked the court for relief. Specifically, he wanted a further reduction of support payments. This time, Charles claimed he has been fired from Amcor and was earning less from his new job.

After various hearings and appeals, the court learned that Amcor fired Charles for various serious misdeeds. However, Amcor would have retained him if he had admitted his wrongdoing and paid restitution. Charles refused. This refusal made spousal unemployment deliberate, not accidental.

The case eventually landed in the California Court of Appeal, Fourth District, Division 3. The court ruled on several issues, including the trial court’s imputing income to Charles when establishing support payments.

The Consequences of Intentional Spousal Unemployment

One or both spouses sometimes try to hide income and assets from the other spouse during a pending divorce action. Some even quit their jobs, leaving their children and spouse without financial support.

As in the McHugh’s case, courts can base support payments on the paying party’s past income. This often is the result of deliberate spousal unemployment. Charles McHugh had made several statements to Amcor that he was trying to hide money and reduce his income because of an impending divorce. He then did not make all efforts to keep the job that he had while married to Connie.

In cases of intentional spousal unemployment, one party chooses not to work to their full potential. But they may find themselves on the losing end of the argument before an unsympathetic judge.

Deliberate Spousal Unemployment to Reduce Support Payments Is Wrong

Courts do not award child support and spousal support on a whim. But support calculations are thrown off when one person decides not to pay their fair share. If you feel that your soon-to-be-ex-spouse is choosing spousal unemployment over support, please call a divorce attorney as soon as possible.

The attorneys at the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger are experienced at all phases of divorce, legal separation, and annulment. Call us at 415-293-8314 to schedule a private appointment or visit our website. We assist clients along California’s Northern to Southern Coast, including San Francisco, Beverly Hills, Marin, San Jose, Gold River, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Ventura/Oxnard, and surrounding communities.