What is a Non-Working Spouse Entitled to in a Divorce?

Whether a spouse worked during the marriage can have an effect on what that party could win in a divorce judgment or settlement. If you have worked up until now but your husband or wife hasn’t, you may have concerns about what that individual may be entitled to receive. What should you know about divorcing an unemployed spouse? The Greenville, SC divorce attorney team at Turner Family Law offers some practical guidance.

Alimony for an Unemployed Spouse

Alimony, also known as spousal support, is intended to help a dependent spouse get back on their feet after the end of their marriage. Although alimony is not automatic, it is likely to be granted where there is evidence that a husband or wife would be financially devastated by the divorce. There are numerous factors that courts consider in determining whether to award alimony, how much it should be, and how long it should last.

With respect to divorcing a spouse with no job, all of these may be relevant to the court’s alimony decision:

  • The spouse’s age at the time of divorce
  • The spouse’s physical, emotional, and mental condition
  • Whether the spouse can support him- or herself independently
  • The spouse’s educational history, employment history, and earning potential

Compare, first, a spouse who is older, in poor physical shape, has been out of the job market for a long time during the marriage, and who doesn’t have much education or a long employment background. Now consider another spouse in another divorce case who is younger, in good shape to work, has not been unemployed for that long, and who has a good education and robust employment history.

While the differences between these two are fairly extreme, they illustrate how courts evaluate alimony cases. The spouse in the first scenario is more likely to get a larger amount of alimony for a longer period of time versus the one in the second case. Judges don’t want divorce to result in a husband’s or wife’s ruin. Another relevant factor is who initiates the divorce. A spouse of limited means who didn’t want the divorce stands a better chance of winning alimony.

Specific Types of Alimony for Unemployed Spouses

Of the various types of alimony, two in particular are relevant to a spouse who isn’t working at the time of divorce:

  • Rehabilitative: This is intended to help a spouse become self-supporting through education or training. If the unemployment was not voluntary, the court may favor this form of alimony so the spouse can do what is necessary to live on their own.
  • Reimbursement: Spouses who invested in their partners’ educations or careers during the marriage may seek reimbursement alimony. This type is especially helpful if the spouse voluntarily gave up a career so the other spouse could advance theirs.

In these cases, the reason that the spouse isn’t working may prove quite relevant to the issue of alimony. A husband or wife who couldn’t help losing their job or gave it up for the benefit of the other generally has a better chance of an alimony award.

What If the Spouse Chose Not to Work?

There are also divorces in which a spouse did not work during the marriage because they chose not to. The working spouse may feel that it wouldn’t be fair to essentially reward a poor decision the spouse made on their own. As before, the reason for being unemployed, therefore, might matter.

For example, a spouse who has an education or had a decent-paying job but chose to leave it will find it harder to justify alimony. Courts have the power to take into consideration any factors which are relevant to the question of whether a husband or wife can support themselves after a marriage. With earning potential being one such factor, a judge may question why a spouse disregarded their potential to earn money, acquire more skills, and attain better job opportunities during the marriage.

How Might Property Division Be Impacted When a Spouse Is Unemployed?

Alimony is a major issue that arises when divorcing an unemployed spouse. But unemployment may also affect the division of marital assets and liabilities. South Carolina courts divide marital property using a process known as equitable distribution. Equitable means fair, not necessarily equal. As with spousal support, the judge will evaluate a number of factors in deciding what is fair.

With respect to unemployment, these factors may especially be relevant:

  • The spouse’s age at the time of divorce
  • The spouse’s income and earning potential
  • The spouse’s physical, emotional, and mental health
  • Whether the spouse needs additional training or education to reach their income potential
  • Whether alimony has been awarded

If there’s evidence that the divorce will have negative financial consequences on the unemployed spouse, the court may award more property and less debt to that spouse to offset the effects. But the reason the spouse isn’t working can still prove relevant. A husband or wife who voluntarily relinquished a career and had a suitable education will likely find it harder to use their unemployment to justify a more favorable equitable distribution award.

The employed spouse can also go on the offensive in certain cases to argue for a more equitable distribution. As an example, the court will consider evidence of one spouse’s efforts to enhance the value of marital property. If the husband or wife took action to make the marital home or stock portfolio more valuable, this could benefit the spouse in equitable distribution.

Our Divorce Attorneys Can Help Make Your Strongest Case

Alimony and property division are multifaceted issues that involve many considerations. You therefore deserve a law firm that takes a comprehensive view of your divorce and seeks the best possible outcome based on the facts.

If you worked during the marriage while the other spouse didn’t, talk to Greenville, SC attorney J. Michael Turner about how this may affect your divorce. Connect with us today, online or at 864-778-2734.

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