Often times, one or both parties to Florida divorce come to mediation with some type of an expert whose purpose is to assist the spouse in reaching an educated decision in reaching a settlement agreement. When people hear the word “expert”, they generally think of a CPA or a financial planner.
However, a vocational expert can help a spouse increase the amount of alimony that he or she will receive. Our Florida Supreme Court Certified Mediators at Mediation of Coral Springs, Inc. have seen some very positive results from the use of a vocational expert by a party at mediation. This type of expert understands the labor market and conducts an evaluation of a spouse in order to determine that spouse’s ability to become employed and what that short-term and long-term earning capacity is.
Some of the factors that a vocational expert uses to assess a spouse’s earning potential are education, work history, earning history, job skills, and the local jobs that are available. In addition, the local economic conditions are also a factor that must be taken into consideration. A spouse’s earning capacity directly correlates to the amount of alimony which a Florida Family Law is able to award.
A vocational expert can make a significant impact where one spouse is unemployed or underemployed. Unemployed includes the stay-at-home spouse who didn’t work to care for children or simply because the other spouse’s income was high enough that only one of them needed to work.
In the case of a stay-at-home spouse, rehabilitative alimony may be appropriate. Florida Statute § 61.08 (6)(a) provides that “Rehabilitative alimony may be awarded to assist a party in establishing the capacity for self-support through either: 1. The redevelopment of previous skills or credentials; or 2. The acquisition of education, training, or work experience necessary to develop appropriate employment skills or credentials. (b) In order to award rehabilitative alimony, there must be a specific and defined rehabilitative plan which shall be included as a part of any order awarding rehabilitative alimony.” In addition, § 61.08 requires the Court to make a “factual determination” when awarding alimony.
Since the Court must make a factual finding, there needs to be testimony presented to determine a spouse’s earning capacity; and where someone has not worked for several years a vocational expert can be an essential witness. Although a factual finding is not necessary at mediation, a vocational expert can help convince an opposing spouse that rehabilitative alimony is appropriate in a given case.
On the other hand, if a spouse is intentionally unemployed or underemployed, then the vocational expert is able to determine an income level that should be imputed to this spouse for alimony or child support purposes.
Further, a vocational expert can assist a spouse in determining how he or she can improve their earning capacity with some education, other skills or a career change.
At Mediation of Coral Springs, our Florida Supreme Court Certified Mediators have found mediating with experts present can provide positive assistance in reaching a Marital Settlement Agreement.