Selection and Use of a Vocational Expert In Spousal Support Cases

Larry L. Sinsabaugh PhD
Larry L. Sinsabaugh PhD

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Client Reviews

  • “Not knowing the first thing about hiring an attorney for an unexpected personal situation, a friend referred me to William Conners. From the very beginning, I felt very confident he would make sure that all negotiations and decisions made would benefit me and my daughter. Will has been very professional and caring and I cannot thank him enough.”

    A. S.
  • ” William Conners represented me in my divorce which was complicated by the fact that my ex-wife and I owned several successful businesses together. I have used many attorneys in the past. Will’s performance was exemplary and many, many steps ahead in legal skill, strategy, preparation and sophistication. My goals were more than met (and then some) and I ended up with the businesses! I can wholeheartedly recommend him.”

    D.R.
  • “I was mired in a contentious divorce that had spiraled out of control through nightmarish claims that were chilling in their seriousness. While struggling to deal with the emotional turmoil of a marriage that was over, I was facing bleak options that realistically included losing my job, my children, and even my freedom. Through Mr. Conners’ skilled counsel I came through the nightmare with my family and my future intact – defeating the false charges, successfully resolving the marital dispute, and keeping custody of my children. I have no doubt that without his expert handling of my case things would have turned out very differently indeed, and for that I am forever grateful. Thank you for giving me back my future!”

    D. G.
  • “A few of the initial things that impressed me about Will and his staff were their accessibility, promptness in responding to my requests and thorough explanation of the answers to my questions. I appreciated Will’s approach to giving me options and recommendations, and then he let me have a say in the decisions regarding the direction of my divorce case. Throughout the process, Will’s priorities remained focused on preparing my case to win in court if a fair settlement could not be reached and minimizing financial consequences without expensive legal posturing. He was my expert legal counsel and a part-time coach that knew how to motivate me and help me get through it. Will and his staff genuinely cared about the emotional and financial toll that the divorce was exacting on me. Without hesitation, I recommend William Conners for his expertise in Family Law matters and his compassion for the person he represents.”

    C.K.
  • “My divorce featured all the most difficult aspects including a vindictive spouse willing to do and say anything to destroy me and exclude my role in our children’s lives. No matter how difficult the situation though, Will Conners provided devoted and professional representation. He took the time and interest to understand my dynamic and craft a strategy that unveiled my spouses’ false vendetta, preserved the relationship between me and my children and protected my financial interests. I count myself fortunate to have had Will as my attorney and wholeheartedly recommend him.”

    P.B.
  • “I came to see William R.F. Conners for a divorce and to work out custody issues for my 5 year old son. I was very impressed with my first and subsequent visits to see Mr. Conners. I always felt that kindness was a given, my case was given the attention and professionalism it deserved, with particular emphasis on the welfare of my son and the staff was always courteous and helpful. Mr. Conners worked very hard on my case and always returned my calls in a timely manner. I highly recommend William R.F. Conners to anyone who needs a lawyer who makes you feel like your case is the most important one that he has.”

    C.O.
  • “As a commercial airplane pilot, a clean driving record is essential to my career. When I was charged by a Virginia state trooper with misdemeanor Reckless Driving by speed on radar (90 mph in a 55 mph zone), I was facing potential jail time, huge fines and a suspension of my privilege to drive. If convicted, I would have had to report the conviction to the FAA and faced potential suspension of my pilot’s license. The stakes were high and I turned to Attorney William Conners for help. Attorney Conners used his knowledge of traffic law and regulations to fight for me at trial and we won with the charge being totally DISMISSED without my even having to testify! If you need legal representation for a serious traffic charge, call Attorney Conners and experience what it really means to have someone on your side.”

    L.A.
  • “Charged with a clear “no win” 3rd Felony DUI, I was facing a dark future. I was destined to be a felon with no right to drive for 10 years and a jail sentence of 6 months to 5 years! Add my life threatening health problems and the situation could not have been worse. However, my prayers were answered and Attorney Will Conners succeeded in getting the charge greatly reduced with minimal consequences. I served less than 1 day in jail after my court hearing which I consider a miracle. I am so grateful for Will’s intelligence, loyalty and kindness. He made a profound difference in my life and I will never forget what he did to help me.”

    S.A.
  • “I am extremely pleased that I chose William R. F. Conners as my attorney for my criminal case. After interviewing several Loudoun County attorneys, I found Mr. Conner’s fee to be by far the best, his personality to be friendly, and his accessibility to be superior. Most of all, Mr. Conners went above and beyond what I expected by putting in numerous unexpected hours and doing an astounding job arguing against the prosecutor. As a result of his hard work and courtroom savvy, my charge was reduced beyond what was expected. I highly recommend William Conners for any of your legal needs.”

    C. P.
  • “After I was involved in a terrible car accident, I had no idea what to do. How do I handle the insurance questions, medical bills, lost time from work? Knowing I couldn’t, and shouldn’t, take this task on myself, I found Mr. Conners law firm thru an internet search. Shortly after completing the on line questionnaire from his website, I received a phone call from Mr. Conners. He was very polite, offered to meet and discuss my case. At the first meeting he made me feel comfortable. Will was always very prompt to answer any questions I had, both email and when I called the office; we even talked on the weekends. I had total faith that he had my best interest in making decisions and recommendations needed to resolve my case. I would recommend his services to any of my friends and family. “

    T.M.
  • “As recent immigrants to the U.S. we have been completely unprepared for dealing with the consequences of obvious negligence my wife encountered during one fateful visit to her new OB/GYN doctor. It was only due to the timely interference of more competent physicians and sheer luck we have been able to avoid permanent damage to her health. On our friends’ recommendation we asked the “Law Office of William R. F. Conners, P.C” to take up our personal injury suit, and through all the stages the firm provided us with the top-rate legal advice. In the end it was solely thanks to their persistence and professionalism that we have been able to arrive to a mutually acceptable settlement of our case. Our special kudos go to Mr. William Conners for his sharp legal acumen and personal dedication.”

    A.C. & I.C.
  • “The injuries I suffered in a car crash were severe and permanent. The extent to which Will prepared my case was extraordinary. Will Conners is the lawyer to call if you have been involved in a motor vehicle collision and suffered personal injury.”

    W.E.
  • “How do you thank someone who took a very frustrating situation and turned it into success! Even after being threatened with a “Contempt of Court” citation my ex-husband stopped support payments. I was told I could garnish his social security payments but that led to one phone call after another to government offices and no solution. I finally found Will and he told me to stop worrying that he would take care of everything. He did just that by following through and taking my ex to court. After back-and-forth coversations I received all of my past due support payments plus attorney’s fees and court costs without going before a judge. There aren’t enough thanks or praise for such a dedicated and caring attorney.”

    D.R.
  • “Will handled my family law case in the 2009-2011 time frame, and was instrumental in helping me achieve a desired result – and avoiding costly litigation. He was very familiar with law specifically applicable to my case, and was highly familiar with the opposing counsels tactics & tendencies. Will managed my case efficieintly and also helped me to do much of my own documentation (hence saving costs). I would be happy to recommend him in the area of family law. He’s a highly ethical counselor, with excellent knowledge of applicable law to divorce cases, and provided me good guidance on my case. Highly recommend.”

    J. C.
  • Nowadays, it is somewhat of a challenge to go through life without the need of an attorney. Should the need arise for a competent attorney to handle one’s legal affairs, I strongly recommend Will Conners. Will has handled a few of our family cases, including personal injury, family law and business transactions. His competency level in handling our cases was above and beyond any other attorney’s I have seen. Will has an extremely keen eye for details and always puts the client’s interest on a priority level. In a nutshell, Will is THE attorney our family turns to when any need arises for legal advice or representation. I would highly recommend Will. In my humble opinion, he is the best!”

    A. H.
  • I hired Will to represent me in a difficult divorce case. He did an absolute excellent job making sure my interests were looked after. It was a difficult time for me with an wife that had some personal issues. In the end Will made sure I did what needed to be done to protect myself but showed compassion for the woman I was divorcing without ever sacrificing my personal interests. I would employ his services again for any legal issues, which I hope there will be none, in a heartbeat!!! Rating would be 4.5 “

    K.A.
  • Attorney Will Connors helped me in filing an accident lawsuit against a drunk driver. Although it took a while for Will and his staff to reach the settlement which I desired, they were with me and my case every step of the way, keeping me fully informed and in the loop on every step of the process. They were most professional in every way, and I am one hundred percent pleased at having chosen Will to be my attorney on this issue. I would recommend Will and his firm without reservation.”

    T.P.
  •  Will has been a pleasure to work with during a difficult child custody battle. He has been almost always available, always on top of circumstances, provided very good counsel, quickly assimilated my issues without excessive dialogue and exhibited great flexibility under changing circumstances. While legal services don’t come cheap, his ability to quickly comprehend my issues probably netted a savings.”

    J.A.
  • Will Conners has been my lawyer for several years and has guided me through some difficult family law situations that occurred as a result of a divorce. His patience and ability to schedule and meet appointments and court appearances have been amazing. He was even able to formulate a plan to handle the final details of my case which is proving to be the best course of action. He has always been there for me when I needed him.”

    D.A.
  • I hired Will to represent me in an arduous divorce case knotted with a complicated financial scenario, and troublesome spousal support battle. Will and his staff’s unending commitment, and patience quickly sorted through my retired military and executive careers, disabled veteran entitlements, and the best interest of the children amidst an emotionally overbearing ex-spouse. My case rapidly spiraled from separation to divorce in under one year. His steadfast professionalism and goodness guided me through a toxic situation that protects both my finances and the children. I can’t thank Will and his staff enough.
    V.M.

Read all testimonials

Notice: The client quotations above are not to be construed to guarantee or predict a similar result in any future case undertaken by any attorney of the Law Office of William R.F. Conners, P.C. Each case result depends upon a variety of factors unique to each case and client.

You have made that decision to file for a divorce and now you’re faced with a range of additional decisions. Some of these are extremely critical. The first and most critical decision is finding and securing a competent lawyer, someone who understands you and your situation. The second is deciding what experts you might need, including whether or not to retain a vocational expert (VE). A VE can be particularly useful in spousal support cases when a litigant is faced with a spouse who is seeking support but is either voluntarily underemployed or unemployed. The VE can evaluate the employeability of the opposing spouse and, among other things, render an opinion that the spouse could earn more. A VE’s informed opinion can be used to support a finding that a party should be “imputed” with a certain level of income—thus reducing or eliminating the payor spouse’s exposure for spousal support,.

Although your attorney will guide you in making the decision of whether a VE is helpful for your case, it’s important to get the right VE. The right VE will help document important issues in your proceeding and can explain the technical points of your case to the court so that the decision-maker will have all the information necessary to make a fair and just decision. Search with your eyes open because not all VEs are alike. Also, VE services are fairly pricey. Generally speaking, fees in the mid-Atlantic area generally are billed on an hourly basis (i.e., at a 10th of an hour for work activity on your case). The hourly rates generally range from between $150 an hour to over $400 an hour. Some experts charge time differently too.  For example some VEs charge one rate for assessment, evaluation and a higher rate to appear at a hearing or in court to present testimony. Give careful consideration to the financial arrangements proposed by VEs before making your decision.  Also be alert and seek to select a VE who has much practice experience, someone who is a contributor to the field and one who has the appropriate background (i.e., holds professional licenses and certifications recognized by appropriate certifying boards and state licensing agencies).

In 2006, I wrote an article for the Virginia Bar Association titled, Imputing Income and Spousal Support Cases: the Best Vocational Experts are Dot Connectors (Sinsabaugh 2006).  This article explains how the VE will document and connect the dots on three critical case issues: (1) earning capacity, (2) job search, and, (3) other significant issues having a bearing upon the case. In that article I wrote, “Most people learn dot connecting as children from the ubiquitous coloring books that contain “connect-the-dot” pictures. Applied to divorce and spousal support cases, each dot represents some data point or fact of the case. If these dots are well-connected, the dots will give way to a finished picture.” VE’s do not create data, but they do connect the data and facts to case circumstances giving a complete picture of the selected parts of the case for the trier-of-fact. Good VE’s, are good dot connectors.

Good VE’s also use standardized criteria and tools found in the literature. Some examples include but are not limited to the Deutsch/Sawyer criteria, the Bridges criteria and the Kerner criteria. In addition, a good VE will also be able to describe for you the importance of certain case standards, especially as they apply to a particular state. In Virginia, one such standard is meeting the Niemiec test.  Remember, you are seeking to engage an expert that will demonstrate, explain, and properly present a well-developed systematic approach. That VE will use methods protocols and methodologies found in the practice literature and journals. The VE should be able to explain exactly how the analysis will be approached and whether the method was peer-reviewed and/or that it is widely used accepted by the rehabilitation, counseling or professional community. More about the process of occupational analysis can be found in the book titled, Occupational Analysis, Job Development and Placement Considerations for Rehabilitation Counselor by Martin, Sinsabaugh, Jarrell & Hardy (2007, 1999).   As in good research, the VE should speak clearly to the issue of background, especially that which is specific to your issues. The VE should also disclose any potential conflicts of interests; describe the methodology applied; and, cite the sources used to support the vocational opinion(s).  This is how the VE connect the dots into meaningful data points for the trier-of-fact. Essentially by engaging a vocational expert you are seeking someone who will present the facts, connect the dots and provide a well-reasoned written report.

As mentioned, in spousal support cases your attorney will use the VE’s report as a foundation for defending against or pursuing the imputation of income.  It is the VE’s report that will serve as a roadmap for vocational testimony in the case. Your vocational expert will provide the trier-of-fact with information necessary to justify a decision about the implication of income. Therefore, it is critical to find a VE who has an appropriate educational background and a breadth and depth of work experience related to providing expert testimony. Select a VE who has made a contribution to the field by writing professional articles or presenting to peers.  Some of the best VEs hold Diplomates or Fellows certification from the American Board of Vocational Experts.

When you engage a vocational expert, be prepared to supply information that it includes, but is not limited to income records, personnel documents, tax returns, work resumes, educational transcripts, documents that address employment skills, awards and certificates held. In some case be prepared to release specific medical records that are pertinent to the matter to be decided.

One of the most important questions that the court will want information about is, “Have you or your spouse engaged in a diligent and thorough job search process?” The VE will analyze the work finding attempts and then provide the court with a vocational opinion as to the diligence of the search or whether there has been a surrender of earning capacity. Evidence concerning the diligence of job search is an important factor to the trier-of-fact.

What things does a VE need to do the best job? A list of the attempts made to find and secure employment. This could be a handwritten list. It could also be as simple as making photocopies of job ads of the type of work being sought, the dates of attempted contact, and the results or employer responses received.  Be prepared to give your VE an accurate employment resume that addresses educational experience and jobs held. Finally, set time aside weekly to search for job opportunities and provide documentation of that search.

A good VE will give you objective criteria for an effective job search. Finally, a VE’s finding that the evaluee has surrendered earning capacity means that the evaluee has failed to look for work appropriately, sufficiently, timely and/or robustly for jobs that could be done given one’s age education and work experience. There are always exceptions, but in most cases not conducting an appropriate job search is tantamount to giving the trier-of-fact the justification to impute income.

Although there are no guarantees, however, generally speaking, selecting the right vocational expert will help your case, but a poor choice will definitely hurt. In summary, the VE is a special expert used to address employment related issues. Below is a checklist of things to look for in a good VE. Select at VE who:

  • Holds at least a master’s degree in an academic filed directly or indirectly relate to vocational rehabilitation.
  • Holds an appropriate professional license to practice and who holds a related board specialty certification.
  • Holds certification from the American Board of Vocational Experts (abve.net )
  • Has been recognized for making a contribution to the field by way of publishing and presenting professional topics related to employment, vocational or occupational analysis or earning capacity.
  • Clearly explains fees charged and billing practices. Do not immediately select the lowest or the highest charging VE. Ask questions. Reputable VE’s will give you an engagement agreement that specifies the fee structure and billing practices.
  • Will explain the vocational criteria and methodology to be used.

Once you select your VE, do be prepared to provide the following types of information:

  • income records and tax returns
  • personnel documents and work resumes, and skill awards and certificates
  • educational transcripts, and
  • medical records

Most importantly, select the VE with whom you feel comfortable talking. If you do not feel comfortable with the VE, ask your lawyer to help you select another.

Dr. Larry L. Sinsabaugh, Ph.D., is the managing director of Sinsabaugh Consulting Services, PC, a full service firm conducting vocational assessment, appraisal (testing), case management, counseling & treatment (clinical experience), coordinating & consulting, referral services, job placement and forensic presentations including vocational expert testimony. Dr. Sinsabaugh also provides employee assistance program (EAP), vocational rehabilitation, and human resource consulting. Dr. Sinsabaugh has been recognized by many courts as a vocational expert including but not limited to the Loudoun County Circuit Court.

References

Martin, E. D., Jr., Sinsabaugh, L. L., Jarrell, G. R., & Hardy, R. E. (2007). Job Development and Placement Strategies: Considerations for the Rehabilitation Counselor (Chap. 6, pp. 153-181). [A textbook for students in Rehabilitation Counseling and Rehabilitation Professionals]. In E. D. Martin, Jr. (Ed.). Principles and practices of case management in rehabilitation counseling.  Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.

Martin, E. D. Jr., Sinsabaugh, L. L., Jarrell, G. R.  &  Hardy, R. E.  (1999). Occupational analysis, job development & placement.  In G. L. Gandy, E. Davis Martin, Jr., R. E. Hardy, & J. C. Cull, Counseling in the Rehabilitation Process: Community services for mental and physical disabilities (2nd ed.).  Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas. [Chapter 7, pp. 130-153. A textbook for students in Rehabilitation Counseling and Rehabilitation Professionals].

Sinsabaugh, L. L. (2006, spring/summer). Imputing income in spousal support cases: the best of vocational experts are dot connectors.  [Virginia Area Association Domestic Relations Council] VBA News Journal, XXXII(3), 10-15.

After reading the FAQs (above), the first step for most of our clients is the Family Law Consultation. At this typically hour long meeting, you will meet with lawyer William R.F. Conners or another well known and experienced attorney affiliated with the Firm. We will discuss the many aspects of your marriage that may impact your spousal support case. In the course of the consultation, we will assess your situation, advise you of your legal rights, obligations and relevant law and discuss your options and remedies. After the consultation, you will be better equipped to make important decisions on your spousal support issues.

In spousal support disputes, our spousal support lawyers can advise you on many aspects including: What constitutes “income”

  • “Imputation” of income
  • Arguments for and against classification of income
  • The underemployed/unemployed opposing party
  • “Permanent” vs. “defined duration” or “rehabilitative” periods
  • Strategies to mitigate the amount of spousal support paid
  • Strategies to mitigate the duration of amount of spousal support
  • The impact of need and ability to pay
  • Challenging claimed expenses
  • The role of fault in spousal support
  • The role of judicial discretion in determining spousal support
  • How experts can be effectively utilized
  • And many more aspects of spousal support.

The Law Office of William R.F. Conners, P.C. in Leesburg, Virginia serves the cities of Chantilly, Fairfax, Herndon, Leesburg, Middleburg, Reston, and Vienna, Sterling, Ashburn and Purcellville, as well as all communities in Loudoun County and Fairfax County, Virginia.