If your wife happens to be an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, she should be working. She is in the category of the highest-paid jobs in Virginia, according to Zippia1. Perhaps she is not bringing in an average of $281,130 annually (yup — that is what Virginia’s oral and maxillofacial surgeons typically make, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics2). Perhaps she is not working at all. After your divorce, can you force her to get a job so you can reduce or eliminate spousal support?

Grit Your Teeth: You Cannot Force Her to Work

Here is something to sink your teeth into: you cannot force your ex-wife to work. You can petition the court to issue a seek-work order, but even that is no guarantee she will get off the couch and get behind a counter ringing up groceries at Wawa.

When you and she divorced, you two (with your attorneys) created a schedule of every big and little financial and personal issues:

  1. Child support and visitation
  2. Spousal support
  3. Property settlement

Spousal support is codified in Code of Virginia under § 20-107.1, under which the courts have to be realistic about your finances and your ex-wife’s. Many factors affect any support one spouse provides the other, including your ex-wife’s ability to hold a job:

  • The extent to which the age, physical or mental condition or special circumstances of any child of the parties would make it appropriate that a party not seek employment outside of the home
  • The earning capacity, including the skills, education and training of the parties and the present employment opportunities for persons possessing such earning capacity
  • The opportunity for, ability of, and the time and costs involved for a party to acquire the appropriate education, training and employment to obtain the skills needed to enhance his or her earning ability

If, during your marriage, you two agreed that your wife would stay home and take care of your children and house, she contributed to the family through that unpaid work. She may have fallen behind in her job skills, and your spousal support is meant, in part, to make up for that.

Spousal support, says § 20-107.1, can be “made in periodic payments for a defined duration, or in periodic payments for an undefined duration, or in a lump sum award, or in any combination thereof.” This means your spousal support can be specifically targeted to pay for your ex-wife to learn a skill to make her employable. The goal of the court and you is to get her off a chain of dependency, to a position of financial independence.

If you can show the court that, despite paying for her to get job training, she did not attend classes or apply for a job, you may be able to reduce spousal support. But you cannot make her get a job.

Pulling Teeth: Spousal Support & The Seek-work Order

While the spousal support can be meant to get your wife working, with the goal of making her financially independent, a mental health phenomenon exists called refuse-to-work syndrome. As explained by Psychology Today, this manifests itself by a spouse with all sorts of excuses as to why she simply cannot work outside the home:

  • Low self-esteem — “Nobody will hire me because I’m so bad at everything”
  • The job has to be a perfect fit — Your spouse may expect to land a 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. job so she is “around for the kids”
  • Unskilled — Despite programs to train her, your ex-wife refuses to acquire skills
  • The kids need me — Then how do other families with two working parents manage?

If getting your ex-wife to get a job is like pulling teeth, you and your attorney could ask a Virginia Circuit Court or Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court judge to issue a seek-work order, either to address her syndrome or to reduce a demonstrable financial burden on you.

Your attorney would have to show that your changing financial circumstances make continued spousal support under the original schedule burdensome. Such changing circumstances to you could be switching jobs, job relocation, or being laid off from a high-paying job.

If your wife is content to live very frugally on only your spousal support, you may have to accept that. You can encourage her to seek work, but you cannot order her to get a job. We know that can be frustrating; it sets your teeth on edge.

Put Some Teeth Behind It: Call The Firm For Men

If you cannot compel your ex-wife to work, a better tactic may be to put a little bite in the bark when you arrange your property settlement agreement. Let your lawyer strategize ways to conserve as much of your financial security as possible, while getting your ex-wife to agree to become self-supporting. Short-term financial incentives may help.

Though we do not have any leads on great jobs in the Virginia Beach area, please call 757-383-9184 or contact us online to reach The Firm For Men. We specialize in preserving and defending men’s rights in Virginia. We can help you, too, with any family law matter. As to divorce, you could say we cut our teeth on the topic.

[1] https://www.zippia.com/advice/highest-paying-jobs-in-virginia/
[2] https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291022.htm#st