Can I get a job while my divorce is pending?

Posted on Apr 23, 2018 by Katie Carter

Clients fall on either side of the spectrum. Either they do whatever they want, with very little thought for the consequences, or they want to run every little change by you before they make it on the off chance that it’ll somehow impact their case in some kind of way that they might not have foreseen.

Obviously, I prefer the latter. Though there are so many things that an attorney doesn’t need to weigh in on (go ahead, switch brands of toothpaste!), there are, on the other hand, so, so, so many things that could potentially have a negative impact on your case. If you wait to let your attorney know about them until after you’ve already made the decision or it’s too late to turn back, then – well, honestly – what are you paying an attorney for? Sure, we can do the best we can to minimize the amount of damage, but the ideal scenario would definitely involve us collaborating offensively rather than defensively.

So, before you move out, buy a house, date/get engaged/remarry, or make any major life decisions, consult with your attorney. I’ve had plenty of clients wind up in over their heads before they even realized it because they didn’t realize at the time the seriousness of the decision they were making. In a custody case, the decisions you make have even more implications – you’ll want to consider the best interests of your children, and make sure that each and every decision you’ve made takes them into account.

But what about when it comes to getting a job? Can you get a job while your divorce is pending? Is there risk involved?

Good for you! You’re doing lots of good things, and that’s great. You’re thinking about the role you have in supporting yourself, without relying (or planning to rely) entirely on support from your husband. Kudos to you for that.

Kudos, too, for considering that your decision may have an impact on your case, and that it’s a good idea to get advice before making any life altering decisions. Changing a job or getting a new one, whether you previously worked part time or stayed at home or even worked full time but are making a change now, is a big deal. There will be some impact on your case, and you should be aware of that impact. Sooner rather than later, too, right? Of course right! Because that way you can begin to think ahead about any arguments you may face at trial, and how to combat them later.

Every case is different, so it might be a good idea to run your question by your attorney before you take any steps. I can only speak generally, because I don’t actually know you or much of anything about your unique situation – except, of course, that you’re wondering about getting a job and it’s potential impact on your case.

A new job and spousal support

So, obviously, getting a job will likely impact your spousal support. In fact, when I say likely, I probably mean something like “inevitably” or “almost certainly”.

Spousal support is calculated based off of your income. So, if you’ve got a job, and you’re earning an income, your income will be calculated. If your income goes up, unless your husband’s income goes up, too, your spousal support will go down.

It’s not a dollar for dollar reduction, though. Just because you earn, say, $1500 a month doesn’t mean your support will go down by $1500. Oftentimes, our clients find that, even though their spousal support goes down, their net income each month actually increases – making getting a job desirable.

It’s important to have a frank conversation with your attorney about your finances, including what your current standard of living is and what spousal support might look like for you in your case. Don’t have enough to get by? A job might be helpful. Have plenty, because he earns a very high income? Well, that’s great, but consider, too, that spousal support has strings attached. Particularly permanent spousal support, which terminates when either spouse dies, or when you (as the recipient spouse) remarry or cohabitate with someone in a relationship analogous to marriage for a period of a year or more.

Can the court force me to get a job?

Some women choose to wait until their divorce is finalized before they make the final decision – yay or nay – when it comes to employment. That’s totally understandable, because spousal support is one of those loosey goosey areas of the law; it’s hard to predict, ahead of time, exactly how much support you’ll qualify to receive.

We use a formula to calculate support, but that’s used as a guideline only in our courts. Though a judge could apply the formula, he (or she) isn’t required to, and could in fact deviate upwards or downwards with very little reasoning given. If you’re going to litigate over spousal support, it’s hard to predict what spousal support might reasonably look like.

If you’re wondering now whether you should get a job, you’ll be operating on incomplete information. Until you’ve either reached an agreement or had the judge enter an order with respect to spousal support, anything you might want, hope, or expect to receive is purely speculative.

That being said, though, can the court FORCE you to get a job? No. The judge cannot require that you work. The judge can, though, listen to employment experts (hired by the other side) who can testify about your education, work experience, and employment prospects. The judge can impute income to you (basically, make you responsible on paper for earning a certain level of income) if he (or she) finds the employment expert’s testimony compelling enough. The judge could award you a level of support that, based on your current financial needs, is not sustainable.

So, in effect, you could find that, after the agreement is signed or the judge has spoken, you really do have to get a job anyway.

Would it hurt me to get a job now?

Probably not, though it’s not a bad idea to talk to an attorney before you take any big steps. Chances are good that you’ll be encouraged, especially if you have an opportunity now. Earning money always makes things a little bit easier, and you’ll be glad of the extra support in all likelihood.

Will getting a job hurt me if mine is a custody case?

Up to this point, I’ve been talking about getting a job and the potential impact it can have on spousal support.

When it comes to custody, though, the situation can change. If you’ve got a current opportunity, consider how it would impact your children. Would it require you to move? Relocation is tricky in custody cases; in fact, you might risk losing custody over it.  Would it require you to work a difficult schedule? Consider how this would impact day to day management of the children. It’s possible that, if his is the more flexible schedule, he could get more parenting time than you.

You’ll want to think about everything in light of the best interests of the child.  Really give some though to how your choices could potentially impact custody. If you’re drawing a blank, talk to your attorney about it and see what her thoughts are.

It’s great that you’re thinking ahead, and that you’re worried about the potential impact your choices could have on your case. It’s always a good idea to talk to an attorney one on one about your case and about anything that you’re planning on doing ahead of time.

For more information or to set up a time for a one on one consultation with our attorneys, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.