Fox Family Lawyers
Cynthia Moseley Fox
Attorney at Law
7751 Carondelet Avenue,
Suite 700
Clayton, Missouri 63105
(St. Louis)

Losing Your Job While In the Midst of a Divorce Can Really Complicate Matters

The trauma of losing a job is often compounded when that same person is in the middle of a divorce. This is particularly true if that person was sufficiently well paid that he/she is being asked to pay spousal maintenance (“alimony”) to their former mate even though he/she has not yet landed a new position at the same earnings level.


For example, let’s examine the pickle “Jeff” is in. He has been married to “Helen” over 20 years, and they have two school-age children. At Helen’s insistence, Jeff moved to St. Louis two years earlier so that Helen could be nearer her family. In the process, he gave up an executive position paying $130,000 a year. After searching in St. Louis for several months, he ultimately settled for a similar job, but at a considerably lower salary of $90,000.


All the wear and tear of relocating, the period of unemployment afterward, and then the stress of a new job overburdened what had long been a fractious union. Jeff decided to end his marriage.


Shortly after the papers were filed, Jeff lost his job. As a short-term employee, he received only two week’s severance. At a few months shy of his 50th birthday and unwilling to relocate away from his children, Jeff expected a difficult employment search.


Meanwhile, his divorce was just as stressful. Despite having a graduate business degree, Helen has not worked outside the home since thirteen years earlier when their first child was born. In fatter times when Jeff’s earnings were well over $100K, and with two young kids at home, Helen’s stay-at-home status hadn’t been an issue. But with the move to St. Louis and a greatly reduced paycheck, this became a sore point.


Not expectantly, without a job nor any recent workplace experience, Helen was seeking open-ended maintenance for herself from Jeff as well as support for the kids. By her calculations, Jeff’s payments should be based upon the $90,000 salary he earned when the divorce papers were first filed. She is sticking by that demand even though Jeff has been unable to land a similarly compensated position despite several months of diligent searching.


Helen’s argument is based upon the Missouri statute covering spousal maintenance that lists the proposed payee’s “earning capability” as an important criterion for setting the amount of maintenance. In essence, despite Jeff’s inability to find a comparable salary, she believes that he could and should be earning that amount and that the court should act accordingly.


There is ample precedence for Helen’s position should the court find that Jeff’s employment search has been less than whole-hearted or that he has intentionally undermined his efforts in order to reduce his spousal and child support payments. Neither is the case in this instance, but complicating matters is that Jeff has suspended his efforts to find a similar position.


That’s because Jeff has reconsidered whether he wants to remain in the corporate rat race. Two months ago, to generate income and stay occupied, he accepted a part-time teaching position with a local university. Unexpectedly, he has found the work greatly rewarding, so much so that he sought and has been given a full-time position, albeit at a considerably lower salary of just above $50K a year.


Jeff’s burden of proof will be to convince the judge that his change in career ambitions is genuine and not a temporary ruse to lower his support obligations. In this regard, terminating his employment search should weigh in his favor. Should he be successful, whatever support amounts are finally adjudicated, they should be guided by his current earnings as a teacher rather than his past compensation.