I'm Unemployed: What Will Happen in My Divorce?

If you’re unemployed, there’s a possibility that you’ve held off on your divorce, that you’ve stayed in an unhappy marriage because you’re financially dependent on your spouse. Perhaps you even feel vulnerable because without your spouse, you’d have no way to financially support yourself, let alone your children (where applicable).

Although there’s a theory floating around that supported spouses are automatically guaranteed spousal support, that’s not based on reality. In all states, spousal support is optional and it is awarded strictly at the discretion of the judge. In California however, it may be easier to get support than in some states because here, we’re what’s called a “no-fault divorce state.” Meaning, couples can get divorced regardless of fault.

With California’s no-fault divorce laws, dependent spouses are not denied spousal support because of marital misconduct, such as adultery. In contrast, some states automatically bar a dependent spouse from support or alimony if they cheated on their breadwinner spouse. So, in that respect, California’s spousal support laws are more lenient than some states that frown upon infidelity.

If you’re an unemployed spouse or a stay-at-home mother or father and your spouse is trying to deny you spousal support, the decision will rest in the hands of the judge on your case. If he or she is sympathetic to your situation, the judge will use their own judgement and discretion in accordance with California’s spousal support laws.

You may be awarded a steady income to last you while the divorce is pending and for a specific amount of time after the divorce is finalized, but it all depends on the facts of your case. Otherwise, you may have to dust off your resume sooner than later.

Getting Support During the Divorce

If you’ve physically separated from your spouse and you’re unemployed, we don’t recommend waiting it out and relying on the mercy of your spouse. If he or she removes you as an authorized user on their credit cards, and if they cut you off, you’re going to need access to cash, fast.

Our advice is to hire a divorce attorney and have them petition the court for temporary spousal support and if you’re caring for the children, temporary child support, both of which will be paid while your divorce is pending in the courts.

“Will I be forced to get a job prematurely?” Judges don’t normally force unemployed spouses to find gainful employment at the outset of their divorce, but sooner than later it may be strongly encouraged. Generally, the standard of living is preserved while the divorce is pending in the courts. The higher-earning spouse has to continue paying all the bills, such as the mortgage, auto loans, health insurance, and credit cards.

Eventually, the marital property (community property) is divided 50/50 between the spouses, unless the couple agrees on a different, but fair division of assets. If you’re unemployed, the judge will likely order your spouse to pay you temporary spousal support. This way, you can buy groceries, gasoline, and pay for your basic essentials.

Are You Employable?

Dependent spouses must understand that financial support from their former spouses is not an automatic right, especially if they’re young, healthy, and physically capable of holding down a job. If you’re asking for support and your spouse is fighting you, the judge is going to want to know why you’re unemployed.

Is it because you stepped away from Corporate America to raise your children? Is it because you’re disabled? Or, is your spouse going to say something that doesn’t paint you in a favorable light in reference to your unemployment? These are all things to consider because the judge will be.

If you haven’t worked at all during the marriage, or if you have never acquired any job skills, the judge will be more inclined to award you spousal support than if you obtained a college degree and chose to step away from the workforce. If you are college educated and your spouse retains an attorney, the attorney could request that you have a vocational assessment to determine your employability and what you should be expected to earn if you did re-enter the workforce.

The judge will likely be swayed by the expert’s assessment of your earning capacity, and it could certainly guide the judge’s decision regarding spousal support after the divorce. If you’re employable based on your education or work record, a judge would expect you to work toward becoming financially independent.

Getting Back On Your Feet

Are you in your twenties, thirties, forties, or even fifties? If you’re relatively young and in good health, a judge may award support for approximately one-half the length of your marriage, assuming your spouse can afford to pay it. This would provide enough income to help you get back on your feet and become financially independent. If you’ve been out of the workforce, it would provide you with enough time to cultivate your job skills, whether this means going back to school, freshening up your existing job skills, or receiving training from a vocational school.

In marriages of long duration, usually ten or more years, judges may award spousal support without an end date. Long-term spousal support is usually reserved for older spouses who’ve been married for a long time. In these cases, support can last until one of the spouses dies or the receiving spouse remarries. However, even long-term support can be terminated if there’s a significant change in the paying spouse’s circumstances and they can no longer afford to pay spousal support.

Related: Important Financial Considerations in a Divorce

Looking for a Los Angeles divorce attorney to protect your rights during and after divorce? Contact our firm today for a free case evaluation.