Can You Be Forced to Take a Higher Paying Job in Your Massachusetts Divorce?

There can be a lot of bitterness and resentment in divorce about one spouse having to “support another’s lifestyle.” In a recent case brought before a Massachusetts Appeals Court, the issue of whether a wife had the right to pursue her career of choice in Montessori teaching, even if it paid her less than her former career as a book-keeper, was decided in favor of the wife. 

The Appeals Court vacated an order amending a judgement of divorce nisi by an Essex Probate and Family Law Court Judge. The order required the wife to seek higher paying work and accept any job offer commensurate with her skills as a book-keeper. 

However, the appeals court decision did not mean the defendant spouse was automatically on the hook to compensate the wife for her choice to pursue a career in a lower paying field. In fact the decision may actually have helped to level the playing field between the payor spouse and the payee spouse, as the wife did not deny that she did not make efforts to seek higher paying work. Instead she argued that rather than ordering her to take a job that wasn’t in her chosen field, the judge should have sought the remedy of attributing potential income to the wife in determining how much alimony should be paid.

Imputed income in a divorce is income which someone has the potential to earn given their qualifications and experience. It can reduce or increase the amount of spousal support/alimony paid to a spouse based on the amount of income a party is capable of earning. In Pavlo vs. Pavlo, the major obstacle to the defendant’s claim was the Massachusetts Alimony Reform Act. The judge had no authority to force the wife to take a specific job as the Massachusetts Alimony Reform Act has no provisions regarding a spouse being required to take a job. On the other hand the law does allow an assessment of whether a party to a divorce is under-employed and whether to attribute income to them that they could potentially be earning, in order to make a determination of alimony.

If you or your former spouse are thinking about making a career change that would impact either party’s earning potential you should consult with a qualified family law attorney to determine how a change could impact a support order. 

Further Reading

Mass Lawyers Weekly Article on Pavlo v. Pavlo

Pavlo v. Pavlo Opinion