Can My Spouse Force Me to Get a Job After We Divorce?


If you’re awarded or have negotiated spousal support (alimony) as part of the divorce order, whether you work after it’s final may be an issue. Collecting support doesn’t necessarily mean you must work, nor does it necessarily allow you to stop working. It depends on your circumstances. 

Your spouse can’t force you to work after the divorce is final, but they may ask the judge to lower or end your alimony if you don’t have or are not actively seeking employment or a better-paying job. The judge would weigh that against the circumstances you claim would make that unreasonable or impossible. 

What is Spousal Support or Alimony? 

It can be one of several economic changes due to a divorce. One party would pay the other as part of ending the marriage. Arguments for alimony include one spouse sacrificing their earning power by caring for children or otherwise supporting their spouse and their career, so it would be unfair not to compensate the person. 

Pennsylvania statutes don’t require alimony.  Granting it must be “reasonable,” and the alimony must be “necessary.” There are 17 factors a judge must consider, and a judge could come up with more if they’re “relevant” to your case. Some of the factors spelled out in the law include: 

  • The parties’ relative earnings and earning capacities 
  • Their ages and physical, mental, and emotional conditions 
  • The extent the earning power, expenses, or financial obligations of a party will be impacted because they’re a minor child’s custodian  
  • The parties’ living standards during the marriage 
  • Whether the party seeking alimony is incapable of self-support through appropriate employment 

The court order would include how long alimony would be received. The time frame could be limited or indefinite but must be reasonable under the circumstances.  

Why Would Your Spouse Want You to Work? 

It’s in your spouse’s financial interests to limit or prevent you from getting spousal support because the less you receive, the less support they pay. They would claim it’s not reasonable or necessary for you to receive so much support.  

If alimony is part of a divorce order and later your ex-spouse claims a substantial change in circumstances has taken place, they may try to have the order changed, so you receive no or less alimony. 

If the judge sees things your spouse’s way, they may consider your circumstances, education, and work experience and estimate the income you should earn if you sought employment (imputed income). Given that income, the judge may decide if you should receive support and if so, how much. 

Why Shouldn’t You Work? 

You’d have to give reasons why alimony is necessary and receiving enough to support you fully is reasonable. 

  • You’re unable to work. You’re too old or may have a physical, emotional, or psychological disability that makes working impossible. 
  • You’re the full-time caregiver of your minor children, so given the demands of parenthood and daycare costs, working is impractical. You have a stronger argument if you have multiple kids and or they have special needs that take more time and energy. 
  • You’re the full-time caregiver of a parent or other family member. 
  • Your standard of living established during the marriage should continue. You didn’t need to work while you were married. The fact you’re divorced shouldn’t change that.  

You would need evidence to support your claims. Your opinion wouldn’t be enough. 

How Might This Be Resolved? 

The judge may make a compromise between both parties’ positions. You would get enough alimony to fully support you for a limited time, then it would decrease and eventually end. In this period where you need not work: 

  • You should improve your education, skills, or experience so you can get a decent-paying job 
  • Your disabilities would be treated, and job training should help you find work 
  • Your children would mature, requiring less time and effort on your part, allowing you to work  

The judge may also agree with your spouse, and you’ll get no or little alimony. Like all divorce-related disputes, you and your spouse avoid the risk of losing the case at a trial by negotiating an agreement. 

If you’re considering getting divorced, involved in a spousal support dispute, or your ex-spouse is trying to end your alimony payments, please contact us here at Karen A. Ulmer, P.C. We can discuss your options and how we can help you.