What is a Vocational Expert? Why would I need to hire one for my case?

A vocational expert conducts an analysis of an individual’s job skills and the transferability of those skills to the current job market.  Completing an analysis of an individual’s employability with relation to their education and work history includes consideration of: 1) the  individual’s educational attainment; 2) length of time since completion of studies; 3) past occupations; 4) specific skills demonstrated in previous employment or vocational preparation; 5) time since past positions were held or duties performed; 6) age of the individual; and 7) the local and area labor market.  A vocational expert’s analysis provides reliable evidence of an individual’s employment potential and earning capacity in the current market.

For Determining Child Support

Prior to January 1, 2007, child support in Georgia was calculated based on a percentage of the obligated parent’s gross income.  The new Georgia child support guidelines went into effect January 1, 2007.  Child support is now calculated by combining the gross income of both parents.  Each parent is required to pay their pro rata percentage of what the statute calls the “Basic Child Support Obligation.”  The Basic Child Support Obligation is determined by adding both parents’ gross monthly incomes and finding the corresponding amount for the parties combined income and number of children on the chart in the statute (the Georgia Child Support Obligation Table).   Determining the Basic Child Support Obligation is the first of many steps in calculating support under the new guidelines.

In order to take this first step, your attorney must determine the gross income of each party.  What happens if one party has been unemployed or underemployed for a number of years?  This situation is not unusual.  In many cases one parent has been unemployed or underemployed for a number of years to devote time to raising children.

The new Georgia Child Support Guidelines provide a method for determining a party’s gross income in the event of “Willful or Voluntary Unemployment or Underemployment.”  The statute provides:

In determining whether a Parent is willfully or voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, the Court or the jury shall ascertain the reasons for the Parent’s occupational choices and assess the reasonableness of these choices in light of the Parent’s responsibility to support his or her Child and whether such choices benefit the Child.  A determination of willful or voluntary unemployment or underemployment shall not be limited to occupational choice motivated only by an intent to avoid or reduce the payment of child support but can be based on any intentional choice or act that affects a Parent’s income.  In determining willful or voluntary unemployment or underemployment, the Court may examine whether there is a substantial likelihood that the Parent could with reasonable effort, apply his or her education, skills or training to produce income.  O.C.G.A 19-6-2

In a situation where a parent has been unemployed for a number of years in order to raise children, a vocational expert can be retained to provide a professional analysis of the parties’ current employability and job skills.  The vocational expert can provide evidence of the positions that are currently available in that party’s field, attest to the party’s employability, suggest any additional training that may be necessary and provide an expert opinion as to the parties’ potential salary range (earning capacity) if employed.  The vocational expert’s analysis can provide reliable basis for the court to impute a gross monthly income to the underemployed or unemployed party.  The result is an increase in that parent’s pro rata share of the Basic Child Support Obligation that will potentially decrease the other parent’s child support obligation.

For Determining Alimony

In Georgia an award of alimony is authorized to a spouse based on that spouse’s need for support and the other party’s ability to pay such support.  In determining whether or not to award alimony and the amount of alimony to award the Court (or jury) may consider evidence of the conduct of each party to the other.  The judge or jury has wide discretion in determining the amount of alimony to award. O.C.G.A 19-6-5 provides the court must consider the following factors:

1)                  The standard of living established during the marriage;

2)                  The duration of the marriage;

3)                  The age and physical and emotional condition of both parties;

4)                  The financial resources of each party;

5)                  Where applicable the time necessary for either party to acquire sufficient education or training to enable him [or her] to find appropriate employment;

6)                  The contribution of each party to the marriage, including, but not limited to, services rendered in homemaking, child care, education, and career building of the other party;

7)                  The condition of the parties, including the separate estate, earning capacity and fixed liabilities of the parties; and

8)                  Such other relevant factors as the court deems equitable and proper.

A vocational expert can provide the information necessary for the court or jury to determine the employability, earning capacity, and/or necessary training and time necessary for a party to renter the work force.  A vocational analysis can potentially limit a party’s alimony obligation and/or his or her exposure to alimony for an extended period of time by showing that the other party is capable of supporting themselves financial, or can do so with minimal training.

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