Spousal or partner support is one of the most critical issues in a legal separation or divorce proceeding. Many factors are considered in determining the propriety and amount of permanent and long-term support orders. Some of those factors, such as earning capacity and ability to pay, are directly affected by the parties’ skills and opportunities to obtain gainful employment. Unfortunately, evidence bearing on issues such as these can be difficult to obtain, especially if a party is inclined not to work in an attempt to deflate his or her income.
Enter the vocational expert. The California Family Code gives family court judges the power to order parties to undergo an examination by a professional known as a vocational expert, referred to in the law as a vocational training counselor. The law requires that these professionals have several minimum qualifications:
- A master’s degree in a field of behavioral science;
- The ability to assess career potential using inventories;
- The ability to interview clients and assess their marketable skills;
- Knowledge of factors relating to the geographic job market; and
- Knowledge of the requirements of educational and training programs.
Vocational experts need to know the mechanics of returning parties to gainful employment or to more lucrative employment. However, they should also be skilled at addressing human factors, such as the emotional and self-confidence issues that may arise due to being out of work for some period of time.
The mechanical portion of the vocational expert’s job consists of the following:
- Evaluating the person’s skills, interests, and limitations;
- Researching the labor market to determine opportunities and the likely earning potential of the party; and
- Drafting a report summarizing these findings and making recommendations for how to help move the person in the direction of being self-supporting, if they are not already functioning at that level.
In addition to these functional tasks, the vocational evaluator can be helpful in easing the emotional burden on the person being evaluated, by explaining the process of imputing income and by helping to develop a career plan. The career plan may then be used by others, such as job coaches or career professionals, to achieve the goals of the evaluated party.
One of the outcomes of the vocational evaluation is that the evaluator can provide an opinion about the party’s earning capacity. This amount may then be imputed as income for the purpose of calculating spousal or partner support.
As you might imagine, the vocational expert report can have a significant impact on the support award in a case. You want an attorney with substantial experience in Northern California, who will represent you aggressively. Please contact the Law Offices of Judy Burger at (415) 259-6636 to learn more.