When a couple with children divorces, the court usually orders the higher earning party to pay alimony and child support to the lower earning party. The court uses standard guidelines to calculate these amounts, which are heavily based on each party’s income.

Certain situations, however, may lead one party to seek to increase or lower the amount of such payments. If the higher earning party decides to quit their current job and move into a different position with a steep pay cut, for example, the lower earning party may try to make the case in court that their ex is simply trying to reduce their mandated payments.

Similarly, if the lower earning party voluntarily quits their job, the higher earning party may try to convince the court that their ex has the ability to work and should therefore not be reliant on spousal support as their sole source of income.

Under such circumstances, your attorney may deem it useful to engage a third-party expert to conduct a vocational evaluation. This expert will assess the job market in conjunction with your ex’s education, professional experience, skills, age, health—among other factors—in order to determine their earning potential.

This professional will issue a judgment on whether the spouse is choosing to be unemployed—or underemployed, as the case may be—in order to reduce their financial obligations. The court can then use this opinion to determine alimony and child support based on the income the spouse could likely earn if they obtained a job that met their earning potential.

If you believe your ex is underrepresenting their earning potential, it’s worth consulting with your divorce attorney to understand your recourse.