This is the next post in a series of articles discussing alimony or spousal support awards in Little Rock, Arkansas. In our previous post, we discussed that unlike some other states, Arkansas does not follow a statutory formula or specific set of parameters to determine whether a spouse is entitled to receive alimony, the duration of the award, or the amount of the obligation. The decision is ultimately in the Judge’s discretion based on the facts of each couple’s specific situation. It is important, therefore, to discuss your case with an attorney to understand how the Court may view requests for spousal support in your divorce proceeding. In this article, we will address a party’s “underemployment” in the context of an alimony decision. If you are in need of assistance, contact our office today to speak to a lawyer.
A key factor in evaluating whether to award spousal support is the financial position of each party. Judges may consider the spouses’ current employment and income, debts, assets, future earning potential, job opportunities (or lack thereof), etc. If there is a significant disparity in their respective financial positions at the end of the marriage, the Court may decide that the person earning more money should pay alimony to the other for a specified period. It is not uncommon for a party wishing to avoid a spousal support (or child support) obligation to accept employment earning a wage that is far below what their skill level would otherwise typically receive. This concept is known as underemployment. If the person seeking alimony can demonstrate that the other is intentionally underemployed for purposes of avoiding or reducing such obligations, a Judge may require them to pay support based on their imputed earning potential. For instance, if a surgeon quits his job to work at a grocery store for the obvious reason that he doesn’t want to pay his ex-wife alimony, the Court may still require him to pay her support based on his surgeon’s salary.
To determine whether someone is intentionally underemployed, the Court will review all relevant evidence. These may include the person’s reasons for changing employment, education level, work experience, health issues, and attempts to find similar employment. There are, of course, legitimate reasons for a person to be underemployed that may be completely unrelated to a spousal support dispute. When the economy is in recession and jobs are scarce, for instance, it may not be possible to find employment in one’s primary field. Extreme stress or health concerns may cause a person to change careers. Depending upon the facts, a Court may decide that a person’s change in employment is a valid and not intentional underemployment. On the other hand, quitting one’s job and failing to seek alternative equivalent employment without reason could be viewed as voluntary underemployment.
Consider the following example. Suppose a husband has been employed as an engineer for 20 years while his wife has been a stay-at-home mom, working part-time as a freelance writer. Just after she files for divorce, he quits his job and takes a position at a local bookstore. During the divorce hearing, the husband refers to his significantly reduced salary to persuade the court that he should not be obligated to pay his spouse alimony. Absent any legitimate reason for the change in his employment, the Judge may determine that he is underemployed and grant her support based upon his previous salary as an engineer.
If you are considering terminating your marriage, it is essential to engage an experienced Little Rock family law attorney to represent your interests. If you need assistance, contact our office today to speak with a lawyer. We also handle matters in Fayetteville, Fort Smith, Springdale, Jonesboro, North Little Rock, Conway, Rogers, Pine Bluff, and throughout the rest of Arkansas.