One of the most common questions posed by supported parties to family law attorneys is “can my spouse force me to work?” Often times supported spouses are threatened by their high earning counterparts with statements like “you could be earning more money,” “you could be earning at least minimum wage” or “I am going to ask the court to make you get a job”. The more money earned by the supported spouse, the less money the supporting spouse must pay in monthly support. However, income is not the only factor considered by the court in setting spousal and child support. According to a recent case, In re Marriage of Ficke, the court must take into consideration the best interest of minor children (if any) when making child and spousal support awards.
The simple answer to the question above is “No,” your spouse cannot force you to get a job, work more hours, or pursue a higher earning position. In addition, the court will not specifically order you to work or to get a specific job. However, the supporting spouse can petition the court for an imputation of income. If a request for an imputation of income is successful, the court will assess an income level (based on ability and opportunity) for the supported spouse and use that amount for purposes of calculating support. For example, if the court determines the supported spouse has the ability and opportunity to earn minimum wage, the court will use a monthly minimum wage number as the income for the supported spouse. As a result, the court does not force the supported spouse to work but essentially pretends he or she is earning up to his or her full potential when setting support. If the supported spouse receives a lower amount of support based on imputation of income, he or she may need to obtain employment in order to meet monthly expenses.
In In re Marriage of Ficke the wife, Julie, was recently laid off from a position where she was earning over $700,000.00 per year. Her husband, Greg, also earned a substantial income during marriage. At the time the court made its support award, Julie was only earning $251.00 per month. However, as a result of different job offers that Julie turned down and the findings of a vocational evaluator, she was imputed with a monthly income of $13,333.00 per month. Julie was awarded a 95% timeshare with the children and $1,368 in monthly child support from Greg. The court also made an award of spousal support payable by Julie to Greg. Julie appealed this order arguing that the court failed to contemplate her inability to work in such demanding positions considering her timeshare with the children. Julie reasoned that such high paying positions required her to work days, nights, and weekends which interfered with her care of the minor children.
Ficke stands for the position that although both parents have an equal responsibility to financially support their minor children, the trial court should not impute income to a custodial parent (like Julie) unless such imputation would benefit the children. California cases have recognized that time spent with children by a parent is incredibly valuable. Therefore, an imputation of income to a custodial parent will not be in the best interest of the children when the imputation deprives the children of considerable time with their parents.
Please contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding child custody and visitation. Nancy J. Bickford is the only attorney in San Diego County representing clients in divorces, who is a Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) and who is actively licensed as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Don’t settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.