As an Arizona State Bar Certified Specialist in family law matters in Arizona, I am often asked about clients changing jobs during a divorce process. While my answer to each client may vary, some depending upon his or her situation, below are a few of the general considerations that I would share.
My general advice is get the best job you can, and then we will deal with the legal implications. If you are changing jobs solely for legal implications, you are probably making the wrong decision.
With that said, of course any job change will have some impact on a client’s case.
Parenting time: Your job search may have you looking for a job that may require a move out of state (or within the state but with a much longer drive to the other parent’s house). Obviously, such a relocation would impact your parenting time schedule, as the farther apart both parents live, the more difficult it will be to exchange the child often. As such, the further away you live, the less frequent the parenting time will likely be. There is also a cost of transportation that must be considered. For example, if you make $1.00 more per hour (or about $2,080 more per year), but you are spending thousands of dollars in airfare for you and the children, you are not actually making more money. The cost of transportation must also be included in determining the value of any increase in pay requiring a relocation.
Child support: An increase in income will increase your child support (if you are the payor), or decrease your child support (if you are the recipient) but this is a good problem to have. As you make more, your total dollar child support obligation goes up (as a payor, but down as the recipient), but it becomes a lesser and lesser percentage of your income. As a recipient of child support, making thousands less in income may increase your child support by hundreds of dollars, but at the end of the day you are further behind financially. Do not let the “tail wag the dog.” Do not make less money for the small benefit on child support, as you are only harming yourself and your children financially. Get the best paying job you can that works for your situation.
Spousal support: Similar to child support, an increase in income could increase your risk of spousal support (as the payor), or reduce your award of spousal support (as the recipient) but it is a good problem to have. Your bottom line, even after considering spousal support, will still likely be much higher as you earn more. Maximize your financial situation, and then allow your attorney to argue the best they can for the related legal issues.
Taking a pay-cut: Clients may from time to time consider alternative jobs that may require a pay-cut. Please proceed cautiously, as there is case law in Arizona that allows a judge to “attribute” to you your earning potential, even if you voluntarily earn less. By voluntarily leaving a higher paying job, you run the risk that the Judge may calculate your child support or spousal support based upon your prior income, even though you are now making less. This is not certain (meaning we can argue against it), but it is certainly a risk that must be considered when evaluating job changes, especially those involving a reduction in pay. Judges are much less likely to attribute income when the loss in job was involuntary (such as an entire department being laid off) and much more likely to attribute income when the job loss appears purely voluntary.
Ultimately, the scope of my advice as your divorce attorney does not include advice as to where you should work and what type of salary you should demand. My advice is that you seek out the best job (which may or may not be your current job) and then allow your attorney to help you fight for the best legal outcome based upon such financial/career decision.
Of course, if you do change jobs while your case is pending, be sure to notify your attorney. You will also need to update your Affidavit of Financial Information if you have already filed one with the Court, in order to reflect your increase or decrease in income and any change in expenses that the job change may trigger.
While your attorney should not be making your career and financial decisions for you, you should be working closely with your attorney and keeping your attorney informed as to your ever-changing financial situation. If you are involved in a divorce, legal separation, or annulment case or other family law case, and if you have determined that you need experienced legal representation, please call 480-733-6800 and ask to speak with Douglas C. Gardner, or visit our website at: