• If your divorce case involves spousal maintenance, chances are that either you or your spouse may have to participate in a vocational evaluation.
  • A vocational evaluation is particularly helpful when determining spousal maintenance for a lower-earning spouse, but it can also be beneficial for reducing spousal maintenance payments if your spouse has more earning potential than they’re letting on.
  • Usually, a vocational evaluation is necessary where one spouse is seeking spousal maintenance, there is an unemployed spouse with the ability to be employed, there is a significant higher earning spouse, or there is an unemployed spouse in need of retraining.

What Is a Vocational Evaluation, And How Does It Work?

someone doing a vocational evaluation

A vocational evaluation is the process of being evaluated by a trained professional to determine your income earning potential, or lack thereof, after a divorce. This process is helpful for spouses going through a divorce where one spouse is seeking (or hoping to avoid!) paying the other spousal maintenance.

Wait, What’s Spousal Maintenance?

Often called alimony payments, spousal maintenance or spousal support is financial support that one spouse may be required to provide to the other following a divorce or separation. It is separate from child support. This support is intended to help the recipient spouse maintain a similar standard of living to that which was established during the marriage.

The purpose of spousal maintenance is to mitigate the economic effects of a divorce by providing a continuing income to a non-wage-earning or lower-wage-earning spouse.

How Does The Vocational Evaluation Process Work?

Typically, the person undergoing vocational evaluation will meet face-to-face with a vocational expert for an interview which consists of a series of tests (for example, the ability to communicate in English).

The vocational expert will review the educational and occupational background of the individual. This involves reviewing past performance history, past jobs, and where the individual is in their educational background. Additionally, the vocational expert reviews past employment records as part of assessing a spouse’s earning potential, considering factors such as work history, education, training, job qualifications, and reasons for employment terminations.

After this is complete, vocational experts will conduct market research for the job market in the particular field where the spouse may be best suited for employment.

The findings and conclusions are summarized in a written report that will also outline the skills and abilities of the individual. The conclusions drawn in this report provide significant evidence for the court to consider when determining whether or not spousal maintenance is appropriate.

One reason a vocational evaluation may be beneficial is because Minnesota family law calls for an examination of the income and expenses of both spouses when spousal maintenance is at issue. This means that the income, job history, and potential income of both spouses are involved. A vocational evaluation can be extremely helpful for determining what these numbers and facts are. In fact, sometimes a vocational evaluation is the only persuasive way a court can determine a spouse’s job and skill level.

As a result, a vocational evaluation can be critically important to ensuring that the spousal maintenance award is fair given the circumstances of both spouses.

Will a Vocational Evaluation Help Me, or Not?

A vocational evaluation or assessment can be a neutral process!

This means that both sides and their respective attorneys agree to the process and the provider. In this case, both spouses can provide feedback to the vocational expert. The advantage of a neutral vocational assessment is that it eliminates competing experts and competing opinions.

It’s important to analyze the professional or vocational experts who might perform a neutral vocational evaluation. Their experience, credentials, and reputation are factors to strongly consider. For example, in a divorce case, it’s important to retain a vocational expert who has experience providing testimony before judges in divorce cases – not someone who helps people plan for a new career path.

Can I Ask for a Vocational Assessment of Someone Else?

Sometimes, it may be necessary to request a vocational assessment of the spouse who is seeking spousal maintenance.

Examples include when a spouse is requesting spousal maintenance and they are either not employed or they are underemployed – in that they could potentially secure a higher paying job.

Minnesota divorce law allows evidence to be presented of not just actual income, but also potential income. A vocational evaluation can be extremely helpful to address the issue of potential income of a spouse, particularly when you are trying to avoid alimony obligations yourself. In some instances, it may be helpful for a spouse who is seeking spousal maintenance to obtain a vocational assessment in order to determine his/her own future employability, retraining needs, prospects of further education, etc.

For example, a spouse may have a college degree, and may have had a job at some point, but they have been out of the workforce during the majority of the marriage while raising children. A vocational assessment would assist in informing the judge about the steps that could be taken by this spouse to become either fully self-supporting or partially self-supporting.

In this context, the vocational expert can provide an opinion on what further education may be necessary, any training or certifications that can be sought, along with the cost and time to achieve these markers.

How Your Vocational Evaluation Will Go

A vocational assessment typically consists of a review of records (social security statements, resume, and social media profiles), a diagnostic interview, vocational testing, labor market research, and then computer profiling.

The Diagnostic Interview

The diagnostic interview part of vocational evaluations is conducted by the vocational expert. This is done either in-person or remotely (via Zoom or another comparable platform). 

  • The vocational expert obtains the educational background of the spouse (high school, college, advanced degrees, technical programs, etc.).
  • The spouse shares their biographical information, including length of the marriage, children, income information, residence, etc.
    • The vocational expert considers the employment history of the spouse (job titles, job duties, location of the previous or current employer, wages, whether the job was full-time or part-time, etc.).

    • The vocational evaluation includes discussion about vocation. In this context, the spouse can share what they would like to do in terms of employment, what jobs they have looked for, what field they want to work in, any research the spouse may have done, and whether licensure is required. 

    • The vocational evaluation delves into the daily activities of the spouse: what does their typical day look like?  Are the children homeschooled? etc.

    • The vocational expert finds out if there are any physical or mental health issues that may prevent the spouse from working: how did the injury occur, current diagnosis and prognosis).

    • The interview is also an opportunity for the spouse to provide feedback as to their hobbies and interests.

    Vocational Testing

    Vocational testing is typically administered by a psychometrist, and these vocational tests are provided as part of the vocational report. The results of the vocational analysis are helpful in determining strengths and weaknesses of the spouse as they pertain to vocation.

    Is the spouse in the above average or below average range of vocational development?

    Does the spouse have the ability to complete training at either undergraduate or graduate level?

    The vocational assessment addresses language, clerical perception, mathematics and attention to detail, plus provides the evaluator with areas of interest for the spouse. For example, is the person social? Artistic? Strategic? 

    The interest survey then allows the expert to opine on what would be appropriate employment opportunities for the spouse! 

    Labor Market Research

    Labor market research is an integral part of the vocational assessment. It provides examples of employment opportunities that may be available in the particular field that the spouse is suited for given their interests and background. The vocational report also identifies whether licensure is required for specific jobs, and if so, the length of time needed and the cost to obtain training/licensure. It then provides a timeline for any retraining or certifications, further education, etc.

    Finally, the vocational report provides an earning range for the spouse and the approximate time needed for the spouse to potentially earn those wages.   

    What’s Not in a Vocational Evaluation?

    It should be noted that while a vocational evaluation can be helpful to obtain background information, assess interest level, have an idea of earning potential, etc., there are some elements that are not within the scope of the vocational evaluation.

    For example, a vocational assessment is not helpful in determining whether or not the spouse would be successful in completing training/certification/additional studies/etc.

    The vocational report also does not address how the cost of further training or education would be paid – it simply provides a preview of the above referenced factors.

    Finally, the vocational report does not address the credibility of a spouse who may claim mental or physical health issues as an impediment to obtaining employment. Such instances require additional followup and discovery.

    Worried About Your Future After Divorce? Let’s Talk

    Determining the amount of spousal maintenance awarded is challenging. With the help of an experienced Minnesota attorney, you can better protect your interests and set yourself up for long term success.

    At Alithis Family Law, we take care to serve Minnesotans with care and fair guidance, helping you decided on the right pursuits during and after your divorce, and navigating the divorce process with confidence. Looking for help? Call today to schedule a free divorce consultation.

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