Court Discusses Vocational Examinations in California Divorce Cases

In many marriages, one couple will act as the sole income earner while the other primarily takes care of the household and children. When a single-income couple divorces, the spouse that does not work outside of the home often experiences financial hardships. As such, the courts will often order the employed spouse to pay spousal and child support to the other party. The courts will consider numerous factors when evaluating whether spousal support obligations should be imposed, however, including the earning ability of the party seeking support. Recently, a California court discussed when it is appropriate to order a party to submit to a vocational examination in a divorce action. If you or your spouse intend to end your marriage, it is prudent to meet with a Bay Area divorce attorney to discuss how the decision may affect you financially.

Procedural History of the Case

The husband and wife married in 2001. They had four children during their marriage and separated in 2012. The husband held various jobs while the wife was a stay-at-home mother. The husband filed a petition for dissolution in 2013. The parties then engaged in extensive and contentious litigation. The wife filed a request for permanent spousal support, after which the court ordered her to submit to a vocational examination per the husband’s request. The wife objected to the order, but her objection was overruled. Following a hearing, she appealed.

Vocational Examinations in California Divorce Cases

On appeal, the court affirmed the trial court ruling. In doing so, it explained that California law provides for both temporary spousal support and permanent spousal support. Temporary spousal support is designed to maintain the living conditions and standards of the parties pending trial and division of the assets. Permanent spousal support is intended to provide financial assistance as determined by the financial circumstances of the parties after their dissolution and the division of their community property.

The court elaborated that when ordering permanent spousal support, a trial court must consider and weigh each of the fourteen factors enumerated in section 4320 of the California Family Code. These statutory factors include the earning capacity of each party, the needs of each party based on the marital standard of living, and the age and health of the parties, among others. A trial court has broad discretion in fairly exercising the balancing process of section 4320 to accomplish substantial justice for the parties in the case before it.

A vocational examination is a type of discovery that may be used when there is a pending motion for a spousal support order. Thus, a trial court may order a party to submit to a vocational examination to assess the party’s “ability to obtain employment that would allow the party to maintain their marital standard of living.” A party who fails to comply with an order for a vocational examination is subject to the same consequences provided for failure to comply with other discovery requests. In the subject case, the court did not find any prejudicial error in the trial court’s decision to order the wife to submit to a vocational examination. Thus, it denied the wife’s appeal.

Talk to an Experienced California Family Law Attorney

California allows parties to seek spousal support in divorce actions, but if a party seeking support has the ability to be financially self-sufficient, requests for such support may be denied. If you intend to seek a divorce or were recently served with papers instituting a divorce action, it is wise to talk to an attorney about your rights. The experienced family law attorneys of Bay Area Family Law Center have ample experience handling contentious dissolution proceedings, and if you hire us, we will advocate aggressively on your behalf. You can reach us through our online form or by calling us at 925-258-2020 to set up a conference.

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