The Range of Transitional Spousal Support Plans

In Oregon, spousal support (alimony) is divided into three categories, which are separately considered in determining whether to award support. Transitional support is for spouses who need time to reenter the workforce or recover their income potential. Compensatory support is intended to recover a contribution to the other spouse’s education or other development of their earning capacity. Finally, maintenance is intended to assist a spouse in continuing in the lifestyle enjoyed during the marriage. Transitional support often requires demonstration of a plan for the transition period. A recent case illustrates that plans may be designed to improve employability without direct education or training.

Near the end of a long marriage, the wife suffered a mental breakdown. She was arrested on drug and weapons charges. and convicted of some misdemeanor charges. She also lost a $25/hour job as a senior administrative assistant.

Although her condition stabilized, she was essentially unemployable. She proposed a plan to volunteer with nonprofits to maintain and upgrade her clerical skills for several years, move to expunge the convictions when she became eligible (which would be about two years after the divorce trial), and meanwhile seek work similar to that which she had held before.

The trial judge awarded indefinite transitional support at $500/month and indefinite maintenance at $2,000/month. The husband appealed. (He also unsuccessfully challenged some aspects of the property division, which are not relevant to this article.)

The Court of Appeals approved the maintenance without comment, and approved awarding transitional support, but it ruled indefinite transitional support was inappropriate and ordered the trial judge to reconsider his award. The court acknowledged that, usually, transitional support is intended to cover education and training. It also noted, however, that when a spouse becomes unemployable, transitional support can be used to assist in becoming employable again. Unlike a prior case in which the unemployed spouse was expected to require a career change, this case presented an expected resumption of the wife’s career after her situation improved.

The court also ruled that transitional support should be limited in duration to the timeframe of the transition plan. I think most judges would have understood this to have been the proper interpretation of the concept.

If you or your spouse have become unemployable at then end of the marriage, and either of you are seeking transitional support, please consider whether a credible plan has been developed. This may, as in the case in question, require hiring a vocational expert to give an opinion. You should be ready to discuss the issue with a lawyer as soon as it arises, so that you can be ready to present a reasonable case either for or against the proposal.

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