May 23, 2007

Common Divorce Myth: You only get spousal support if you don’t have a job

Yesterday I stopped by the family law facilitation office at the Washington County Courthouse in Hillsboro.  The person I wanted to speak with there had a room full of people waiting to be helped, so I took the next number to speed things along (lest you think I’m a rogue volunteer, I started helping out as a first-year law student and try to whenever I can).

The woman who approached me was looking for dissolution paperwork.  She and her husband have an older daughter and had been married for some time.  In going over the paperwork, I reached the place where she could ask for spousal support if she wished.  “But you only get spousal support if you don’t have a job,” she said.

Usually I’m more diplomatic, but I was so excited to be presented with another divorce myth to blog about that I gleefully said, “Nope!”

“But my friends said…”

At this point, I recovered my lawyerly cool and explained a bit about the way spousal support works in Oregon.  To begin with you can always ask for spousal support, with or without a job.  (In your petition for dissolution, you can ask for the sun, moon, and stars — however, there may be some jursidictional issues involving celestial bodies — because your petition is a sort of wishlist.  You may not get it, but you can ask.)  But before you do, it’s important to know what to ask for.

In Oregon, there are three types of spousal support: transitional, compensatory, and maintenance.  Roughly speaking, transitional spousal support is to get a party back on his or her feet after some time away from the job market.  This is probably what the woman in Washington County (and her friends) were thinking about.  This type of support tends to be for a fixed period of time, say enough for someone to finish college or complete a vocational program.

The second type of support is compensatory.  This is the sort of support you’d get if you put your spouse through vocational, medical, or law school and you then went through a dissolution proceeding. It’s designed to compensate you for your financial investment in your spouse.

The last type of support is maintenance. If the dissolution is going to leave you without enough income to support you in the type of lifestyle to which you’ve become accustomed (let’s say you married Elizabeth Taylor and she didn’t make you sign a prenuptial agreement), then the type of support you’d look for would be maintenance.  This tends to be longer-term then the other types of support, and can, depending on the length of the marriage and some other factors, go on indefinitely.  (The down side of being married to Elizabeth Taylor would be that you probably wouldn’t have been married long enough for you to convince a judge you should receive indefinite maintenance support.)

In each type of support, the court looks at certain factors to make its determination.  We’ll talk about these in future posts, but you can find each of them outlined in ORS 107.105.