Frequently I am asked by my clients whether they should get a job before or during their divorce or legal separation. With equal frequency I am asked by my clients whether his or her spouse should be getting a job. These questions are important to my clients because they may well impact the issues of child support and maintenance (spousal support) and may also impact future modifications of child support and maintenance. Also, these questions can sometimes impact custody determinations.
Generally speaking, most lawyers and judges are of the opinion that the law does not require that an unemployed or underemployed spouse seek employment before or during the divorce process. This is not to say that the spouse from whom child support or maintenance is sought, will not want to press this issue. However, the decision to seek and obtain employment can also be strategic so it is something that should be thoroughly discussed with your attorney before pursuing employment, or making a decision to not pursue employment. Some judges may view a lack of effort to seek employment shortly before or during the divorce process as a relevant consideration in decisions relating to awards of child support and maintenance. Other judges may find a lack of effort at this state of the legal proceeding to be not very important or irrelevant. Again, it is crucial that these issues are discussed with your lawyer since experienced counsel may have opinions on this topic based on previous cases with the Judge assigned to your case.
What is clear under the law is that once the divorce (or legal separation) is finalized, the law in Missouri does impose an affirmative duty on an unemployed or underemployed spouse to attempt to become self-supporting. Note that that I have used the word “attempt,” since the law does not require that a spouse achieve the goal of self-sufficiency but only that a good faith and reasonable effort is undertaken to find suitable employment. In today’s economy, obtaining appropriate employment after being unemployed or underemployed can often be a serious challenge when taking into account the age, education, and experience of the person seeking employment. Also, the age and health of the person considering employment (and his or her children) may make the pursuit of employment irrelevant or impractical.
As always, guidance from experienced family law attorneys is crucial to these issues and decisions.