One of the most frustrating things about getting divorced for spouses who gave up their careers to raise children or put the career of their spouse ahead of their own career, is that they may be imputed at their prior income or earning capacity, whether or not they are actually working. In every case where one spouse has been out of the workforce, or is working part-time, that spouse has to decide what to do about employment, while the divorce case is pending.
We all hear stories that divorce attorneys tell their clients who have been out of the workplace not to work, while the divorce is pending. While it is true that your income will most likely never be set lower than what you are actually earning, if you do not make an effort to look for employment, while the divorce is pending you could find yourself in a situation where you don’t have employment and you can’t pay your bills on the funds you are receiving after the divorce.
In New Jersey, income is most often imputed based on that person’s past work history, occupational qualifications, educational background and prevailing job opportunities in the region. Commonly, courts will review New Jersey Department of Labor statistics to find that person’s usual or former occupation and impute income based on the average earnings for their occupation in the county where that person resides. If a person does not have an employment history, is unable to return to his or her prior employment or has simply been out of the workplace for a substantial amount of time, the court can impute income to that individual based on full time employment (40 hours) at the minimum wage for their state.
There is no doubt that the divorce process is particularly painful to the stay-at-home parent or out-of-work spouse, who must now make substantial changes to his or her lifestyle in a short amount of time. How and when to return to work is a personal decision, which at times involves difficult decisions about child care and other personal responsibilities. This decision should definitely be made with an eye on what income may be imputed to you at the end of the case.