Divorce or separation are very emotional topics and can cause people to say any number of things which they may or may not mean. One action often threatened is that a spouse will quit his or her job to avoid alimony, increase/decrease alimony or otherwise cause hardship to the spouse that wants out of the relationship if he or she files for divorce. Conversely a spouse that is not employed outside of the home may threaten to refuse to seek any type of employment before, during or after a divorce. This is actually a very bad idea, the loss of income will cause hardship on both parties in the short-term and it will be more damaging to the spouse that quits in the long-term. The refusal to seek employment has a similar effect and can cause the person to actually receive less support than he or she actually should.
It is well established law in Michigan that if a spouse attempts to leave employment, voluntarily reduces income or intentionally remains unemployed, then the court may take a number of actions against that spouse. In most instances the other spouse can prove to the court the fact that the person has a "voluntary unexercised ability to earn". If one is able to prove there is a voluntary unexercised ability, then the court will treat that spouse as if he or she is actually earning the income he or she should be earning for purposes of calculating child support and alimony.
So for instance, if an executive working at General Motors earning one hundred and fifty thousand ($150,000) dollars annually, voluntarily leaves her employment, then files for a divorce one (1) year later, the court will calculate and determine alimony and/or child support as if the wife were still earning the one-hundred and fifty thousand ($150,000) dollars annually and order her to pay it even if she is still not employed or employed earning less than that income. In that case, the attempt to avoid the obligation failed and she is faced with paying the higher amounts of support but without the matching income. In the meantime, the loss of the income to the parties will most likely increase debt and strife while the parties continue to reside together during the divorce.
Alternatively, a spouse with a teaching certificate that has been out of teaching for a few years refuses to seek employment even though he will have to earn an income after the divorce regardless of how much support he may receive given the economic circumstances of the parties. In this case, the court may consider the average income for teachers in the local area or Michigan in general for a full-time teacher and use that income when calculating support or alimony. The problem is that, if the husband had actively sought employment but was only able to get temporary or substitute employment, his actual income would be considerably less and this would be the amount the court would have to use in the calculations. This would result in less support and the husband would still actually be unemployed with no real income after the divorce.
If you have any questions regarding divorce or family law, please do not hesitate to contact us at (248) 608-4123 or [email protected].