Money changes in a divorce. While you might have been comfortable (or at least, somewhat) before, I often hear that women in particular face pretty serious struggles once they separate from their husbands, especially before things like child and spousal support are officially determined.
Sure, we can file for divorce and ask for support to be awarded fairly quickly, but that generally means moving forward (at least initially) with a contested divorce. A contested divorce is typically more expensive and, if you haven’t been separated for a year, you’ll have to use fault based grounds to even get into court. What’s the problem with that? You almost certainly have something you can use to establish fault based grounds, at least to file on initially, right? Well, to start with, a contested divorce will require a much bigger retainer – something that may be hard to come by if you’re already concerned about your finances.
Typically, just to give you a sort of a ballpark idea, our uncontested retainers are more like $2,500, while the contested divorce retainers start at $5,000 and go up from there. Not only that, but you’ll probably find that, at least initially, a lot more is spent on a contested retainer than on an uncontested case. Just drafting an agreement usually doesn’t cost all that much, but filing for divorce, scheduling a hearing, attending a hearing, and conducting discovery can add up – and you may find that your $5,000 is gone in a flash. Sure, you’ll have an opportunity to ask the judge for support, but it’ll take awhile to recoup the money you’ve already spent on legal fees – and, of course, the legal fees will keep coming as your case moves towards resolution.
But what’s the big deal? You can switch from a contested divorce to an uncontested divorce, right? Well, your husband might not be on board with that plan – not once you’ve filed for divorce, alleged all sorts of bad things against him, and forced the issue of support really early on. In fact, I find that there’s often a lot more bad feelings/escalated tensions at the beginning of a contested divorce than an uncontested divorce. In an uncontested divorce, you can be a little more delicate in your wording and maneuvering, which can make a difference. Never underestimate the importance of keeping tensions as low as possible, especially when you want something from your husband (you know, like a signed agreement, so you can keep your case out of court and save thousands on attorney’s fees).
Remember, you’ll have to use fault based grounds to file, unless you’ve already been separated for a year, and that alone can change the tenor of a case. He’ll allege things against you, too – you know he will. If things weren’t adversarial before, you can bet they will be now!
So, anyway, all of that to say that one thing and another can lead to you maybe not taking the quickest road to getting support officially awarded, which can leave you wondering – do I just need to get a job (or a second job) already?
Maybe! The court cannot force you to work, so ultimately it would be up to you. The court can sort of force your hand a bit by doing something like imputing income to you (if it finds that you’re capable of working and earning and you refuse to, it can find that you’re voluntarily underemployed and basically make you responsible for earning some level of income – but that’s a later on down the line consideration), but it can’t make you get a job.
Most of the time, though, my clients are more than willing to re-enter the work force, to step things up a little, or to even get a second job to help cover the gaps in the meantime. The question I get from them is more about whether they should, and what impact the job (or second job) can have on their case. Specifically, if they show that they CAN do this, will they have to do it forever?
It’s good to be asking these questions. In fact, it’s always good to ask your attorney questions about the impact your choices can have on your case. It’s what you’re paying us for, right? I’m always surprised at how often a client goes ahead and does whatever she wants, without consulting me – and then I have to hear about it from opposing counsel! I’m not just talking about getting a job, either. But a bit of advice? Always talk to your attorney before making any decisions.
Any income you earn will be calculated into your support, and will reduce it. It’s not dollar for dollar generally. When my clients come to me and ask me about jobs, I like to run guideline support calculations in all sorts of different ways to show them how much impact different levels of income will have on their overall support. Even if we don’t know exactly how much they’ll start earning, we can calculate it at a bunch of different levels just to see. After all, don’t you like to have all the information before making a decision?
Now, that being said, guidelines for child support ARE binding on the courts, but guidelines for spousal support are more like a suggestion or starting point. It’s not gospel, but it’ll at least help give you an idea of what you might expect, and whether a job is going to be worthwhile or not.
Typically, with a second job, the same analysis applies – though I do think you run the risk of having a hard time NOT working a second job later. Ultimately, it would be up to the judge, not me, though. So, if you worked a second job for awhile, then quit and filed a petition to modify child support, if your child’s father wouldn’t agree, you’d have to go to court over it. You could tell the judge what you did, why you quit, and then ultimately he’d decide whether getting rid of that second job was reasonable under the circumstances. You still run into that whole ‘voluntary underemployment’ issue that could result in income being imputed. Would it? It’s impossible to say.
The best course of action is to talk to your attorney one on one about your specific circumstances and come up with a plan of action. Money is often tight at the beginning of a divorce, but it’s a good idea to make sure that you’re thinking about things with the long term in mind. Don’t do anything without discussing it, make sure to ask lots of questions about future implications, and make sure your attorney is always apprised of any changes in your situation. As an attorney, I can tell you – it’s not fun to learn your client has done something because opposing counsel tells you so!
For more information, give our office a call at 757-425-5200. We can help you schedule an appointment or make sure one of our free divorce and custody books makes it into your hands. You can also request a copy online, or get one of our great free reports if you still have questions.