California family law operates under a policy that’s meant to encourage divorcing spouses to become self-supporting after they split. That means each spouse should look for work, to the extent that he or she is able. It also means that a person who has been injured or suffers from a medical condition should take appropriate steps to treat the injury or condition so that he or she can eventually return to the job. As a recent case out of California’s Second District Court of Appeals shows, courts often treat spouses who don’t live up to their end of the bargain as if they are working. That means a court can impute income to the non-working spouse and lower the amount of alimony or support to which he or she would otherwise be entitled.
Husband and Wife separated in June 2009, following 22 years of marriage. Husband was eventually ordered to pay Wife more than $5,300 in child and spousal support. The trial court found that Husband was making more than $17,000 per month as a FedEx commercial pilot. The judge also warned Wife that it was her responsibility to look for permanent, full-time work and said that should happen by the time the couple’s youngest child graduated from high school five years later.
Wife eventually found work as a substitute teacher in 2013, but she quit the job soon thereafter when she was injured in a car accident. She later told the trial court that she wasn’t able to work due to injuries from the crash, as well as other unrelated medical conditions. Wife asked the court to increase the amount of spousal support that Husband was required to pay, noting that his monthly income had since risen to more than $19,000. The trial judge agreed and ticked up the monthly child support to $3,000 from $2,250.
But Wife said that wasn’t enough. She argued on appeal that the trial court failed to properly take into account medical evidence showing that she wasn’t able to work. Instead, the trial court relied on the opinion of a vocational expert who said that Wife had the skills and ability to be gainfully employed. As a result, the trial court imputed to Wife $45,000 of income per year, based on what it said she could be making if she worked full time.
Affirming the decision on appeal, the Second District said the trial court’s decision was supported by substantial evidence. Evidence showed that Wife would need either neck or back surgery at some point in order to work, or would need to find a situation that accommodated her physical limitations, according to the Court. Still, it was clear to the Court that Wife had not made a legitimate attempt to find work. The burden, the Court said, was on Wife to take seek the appropriate treatment for her conditions and to make a good faith effort to rehabilitate herself and find gainful employment.
If you’re considering a divorce or are grappling with support and other issues in California, contact San Jose spousal support lawyer John S. Yohanan. With more than 30 years of experience, Mr. Yohanan is an accomplished family law attorney who has helped a number of clients resolve a wide variety of marital disputes. Call our office at (408) 297-0700 or contact us online to schedule a consultation.
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