Simply put, the purpose of a vocational evaluation is to determine how much money a person could likely earn if he or she entered or returned to the workforce. The amount a person could earn is directly related to how much alimony a court may award.
Florida’s alimony statute, Fla. Stat. 61.08, allows the Court to award alimony to a spouse who has an actual, demonstrable need for support. To determine the amount of alimony, the court must do a multi-step analysis. Because alimony is intended to provide for the “needs and necessities of life,” based upon the standard of living established during the marriage, the first step is to figure out what those needs are. This can vary tremendously from person to person.
The next step is to determine whether the spouse seeking alimony has any income that he or she can use to reduce his or her needs. That includes income from all sources, including investment income and earnings. Many alimony seekers are not employed at all, so they assume the earnings number is zero. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Under Florida’s current alimony law, it is assumed that every person can and should work to support him or herself. That means that even if you choose not to work, it will be assumed under the law that you can earn something. The amount that the Court determines you could earn is imputed to you, which means that whether or not you are working, the Court “pretends” that you have that amount of earnings.
That imputation amount can make a huge difference in the amount of alimony. Your alimony amount will be determined by subtracting the amount of money you actually earn and the amount of earnings the Court imputes to you from your reasonable needs. For example, if your monthly needs are $10,000 and you earn $1,000 per month from interest and dividends in your brokerage account, and you are imputed income of $4,000 per month, then your alimony need goes from $10,000 to $5,000. In other words, the payor spouse would only be required to pay alimony that would leave you with $5,000 per month. Lawyers often, and very reasonably, disagree about what a non-working spouse could earn. There are a multitude of arguments to be made on each side. In many instances, both sides can agree on an imputation amount and the issue can be resolved in a settlement agreement. If the lawyers cannot agree on what that amount should be, then the payor’s lawyer will usually request a vocational evaluation to establish the amount of imputation.
The evaluation itself should be a relatively simple and painless process. Typically, the evaluator will conduct an interview asking multiple questions about educational background, work history, skills and interests. In addition, the evaluator will do a variety of psychological tests or other assessments geared toward determining what type of job you might be qualified for and what your interests are. The process can last for a few hours or a full day, depending on the type of tests the evaluator does. Based on all of that information, the evaluator will then do his or her own research to identify actual jobs that you could (theoretically) get and how much those jobs pay.
Does this mean you have to get a job? No. The evaluator uses this information to help the Court determine what would be a reasonable amount of income from a job to impute. Neither the evaluator, nor the judge, nor your spouse can force you to work at a particular job, or even to work at all. That will be your choice to make, but whatever your choice, the “pretend” income will be imputed by the Court.
Jodi Furr Colton is a Boca Raton attorney with the law firm of Brinkley Morgan. She focuses her practice on divorce, alimony, equitable distribution, parental responsibility and timesharing. She can be reached at 561-241-3113.
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