Examples of Vocational Evaluations for Divorce

By Beverly Bird

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Fact-finding -- also called discovery -- is a major part of divorce proceedings, but you have to do it in such a way that the court knows for sure that the facts you're presenting are true. Facts presented in court should be backed up by either documentation or expert opinion. A vocational evaluation is a form of expert opinion. You can submit a copy of an evaluator's report to the judge, use it in settlement negotiations, or call the evaluator to testify at trial. However you use it, an evaluation can be pivotal to the outcome of your litigation.

How an Evaluation Works

If you tell your spouse that you want a vocational evaluation, she may not submit to it willingly. You may have to file a motion with the court, asking the judge to order her to cooperate. If ordered, she'll attend a series of meetings with a professional, usually a psychologist or someone with a master's degree in vocational research. The evaluator will make an assessment of her job skills, her training and her education. He'll match her expertise to likely jobs for which she could qualify and their current pay rates.

Evaluations as Part of Divorce Proceedings

There are several reasons why you might want your spouse to undergo a vocational evaluation as part of your divorce proceedings. For example, your ex might ask the court to order alimony, claiming that she can't support herself, but you may suspect that she could make her own money if she tried. The evaluator can tell the court how much she would likely earn if she did get a job. This is important because courts often base alimony awards on earning potential, not necessarily the income a spouse is earning at the time of the divorce. Another instance in which an evaluation might be helpful is if your spouse is claiming that she cannot afford to pay alimony. You might ask for a vocational evaluation of her skills to prove that she qualifies for a higher-paying job. Parents may become underemployed or even unemployed in an effort to reduce their child support obligations. A vocational evaluation can help ensure that the judge imputes income to such a parent, so that the obligation is based on what she could earn, not what she does or doesn't earn at the time calculations are made.

Post-Judgment Motions for Relief

Vocational evaluations can be instrumental in post-divorce litigation as well. For example, your decree might order you to pay temporary alimony for a period of time so your ex can get back on her feet and begin supporting herself. She might file a motion with the court toward the end of this time, claiming that she's still not employable for some reason such as that she's suffered an injury that prevents her from working in her field. A vocational evaluation can determine if, with her skill set, she might get other comparable employment. A common post-divorce issue is child support modification; your ex might claim her income has dropped since your divorce order was issued, so she needs the amount adjusted. A vocational evaluation can establish whether her drop in income is voluntary.

What an Evaluation Can't Do

A vocational evaluation isn't a magic wand. If your spouse genuinely does not have marketable job skills, the report will reflect this. An evaluation is most useful when a spouse with an advanced degree or considerable training and experience suddenly claims to be unable to work. If your ex never graduated from high school and her entire employment history has involved working for minimum wage, it's highly unlikely that an evaluator would state that she could earn more -- at least without going back to school.