By: Reymond Huang

Divorcing couples often face emotional and financial challenges. Emotions of anger and confusion flood divorce proceedings, creating an uncomfortable atmosphere. Furthermore, the parties must inevitably adjust to a new standard of living. Typically, one party is the breadwinner while the other stayed at home and took care of the children. Divorce overturns these roles. The stay at home parent may find a job to support the family while the breadwinner may work less to spend more time with the children.

Eventually, the parties must determine spousal and child support. Each side will jostle for less or more monetary support. Oftentimes parties will purposefully reduce their income or refuse to work. The objective: to pay less or receive more spousal or child support. Vocational evaluators help solve this problem. A vocational evaluator evaluates how much a party can earn given that party’s education, work experience, and other factors. A judge places great weight on a vocational evaluator’s determination and will assign income on a party based on the vocational evaluator’s report.

Assembly Member Richard Bloom (D – Santa Monica) introduced AB 2780 because vocational evaluators are “underutilized tools in family law cases.” AB 2780 “seeks to increase access to vocational evaluators” by expanding the educational requirements of vocational evaluators. Current state law provides that vocational evaluators must hold a master’s degree in the behavioral sciences. Under AB 2780, a vocational evaluator may possess a master’s degree in the behavioral sciences or any other postgraduate degree that a court will find sufficient to conduct an evaluation. In addition, AB 2780 allows a court to consider the overall welfare and developmental needs of the child along with the amount of time a parent spends with the child in determining the parent’s earning capabilities. AB 2780 included the language ‘the overall welfare and developmental needs of child and the time the parent spends with the children’ into Family Code Section 4058(b).

The Family Law Executive Committee of the California Lawyers Association sponsored AB 2780 and the California Protective Parents Association supported this bill as well. AB 2780 did not face any opposition.

However, A.B. 2780’s goal may be stymied by practical hurdles. Divorce is expensive, and parties may completely avoid hiring attorneys or experts. Courts supply ample resources for parties to conduct the divorce on their own. In addition, mediation provides a popular alternative to hiring attorneys for divorces. Furthermore, A.B. 2780 does not define the scope of educational degrees that may qualify a vocational evaluator. Finally, A.B. 2780 re-states many principles that have already been determined by courts such as the time a parent spends with his or her child and the developmental needs of the child.

Governor Brown approved AB 2780 on August 20, 2018 and became Chapter 178.

To learn more about AB 2780, listen to my interview coming soon on “In Session,” a podcast from the University of the Pacific Law Review.

Reymond Huang is a staff writer for the University of the Pacific Law Review and law student student at McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento.