In an alimony case, one of the more important issues you may face is deciding whether or not you or your spouse is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed. This issue was at the center of one South Florida man’s appeal of his divorce judgment. The man successfully persuaded the 4th District Court of Appeal to send the case back to the trial court because that lower court had imputed no income to the wife despite clear evidence that she was voluntarily underemployed.
In this case, R.M. (husband) and C.M. (wife) from Broward County had sought a divorce after 30-plus years of marriage. As part of the trial court’s judgment of dissolution in the case, that court awarded alimony to the wife. In calculating that alimony amount, the trial court imputed no income to the wife. It was on this basis that the husband appealed the alimony award.
The appeals court agreed that the award was erroneous. The law requires proof of two things in order to impute income to a spouse in an alimony case. One is that the spouse left his or her old job voluntarily. The other centers on whether the spouse made a legitimate, bona fide effort to find a new job that was comparable to the old job.
The evidence in this case showed that the wife, as a registered nurse, demonstrated an ability to earn in excess of $75,000 during the period from 2008-11. The wife had left her old job voluntarily because she disliked working long shifts, and her income was no longer needed to pay for their daughter’s college expenses. Since then, the wife refused to consider any jobs that required working long shifts. She also turned down a job paying $50,000 because she believed that salary was too low for someone of her education and experience. In her current job, the wife generally only worked 10-15 hours per week. The wife, in her own testimony, admitted that if she was willing to consider jobs that required shift work, she could likely find a position earning $60,000-$65,000 per year.
This meant that the trial court had before it proof satisfying both of the two factors for imputing income. The law did not require the wife to take the sort of high-stress, long-shift jobs available at hospitals, but the evidence that the wife declined the $50,000-per-year job simply because she deemed the pay to be beneath her was solid proof that “established a lack of best efforts” by the wife to avoid underemployment. The wife’s effort in this case was, in the court’s view, similar to another South Florida alimony case, Green v. Green. In that 2012 case, the wife had previously operated a photography business and made $80 per hour, but she had not worked for several years. In that case, the wife testified “I know that I can’t go work for $10 an hour.” The trial court calculated the husband’s alimony obligation based upon the wife’s income of $0. The appeals court in that case, like this one, sent the case back to the trial court to impute income to the voluntarily underemployed wife.
Alimony disputes may involve needing to prove, or defend against, many things, including whether one of you is voluntarily underemployed or unemployed. Whether you’re seeking alimony, or your ex-spouse is, you need need experienced Florida legal counsel to help you put on the best case possible. The experienced South Florida alimony attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. are here to give you the diligent advocacy and careful advice you need for your case. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.
More blog posts:
Florida Appeals Court Reverses Alimony Award for Failing to Provide for Wife’s Needs, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Jan. 27, 2016
Wife’s Self-Imposed Unemployment Factors into Alimony Calculation, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, June 12, 2014