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Divorce May Undo Lawyer's Career Change

It is the dream of so many Biglaw lawyers: To simplify, to downsize, to forgo big bucks in favor of personal fulfillment. And it was the dream the former Washington, D.C., Biglaw partner had pursued -- at least until his plans were foiled by last week's Massachusetts Appeals Court opinion in the case, C.D.L. v. M.M.L. The unidentified lawyer had it all, graduating from law school near the top of his class, clerkships with a federal circuit court and then the Supreme Court, a private practice in energy law with the D.C. office of a large Wall Street firm, average annual income of $700,000, a large house in Maryland and private schools for the kids. Eventually the travel and stress got to him and he began to contemplate downsizing. He and his wife came up with a plan for him to leave his firm and seek an alternative career, but still earn sufficient income to keep their lifestyles comfortable.

But then the couple's relationship began to go south. Well, actually, she went north, to Massachusetts, while he stayed south, in D.C. Then, in January 2001, without any discussion with his wife, the husband quit his lucrative law firm job. Ever since, he has been unemployed, living off his assets and savings, making only "minimal attempts" to obtain other work by applying for low-paying jobs for which he has no experience.

Unemployment is good work, if you can afford it. But then the judge in the couple's divorce trial ordered the husband to pay his former wife alimony of $711.54 a week, reasoning that even though the husband was not working, he had the ability to earn an income of at least $200,000, more than sufficient to meet the needs of the wife and the couple's youngest child. The husband appealed, arguing that the divorce judge erred in attributing income to him at this level. Unfortunately, he found no sympathy with the Appeals Court, which noted that he "has taken no steps to diminish" his own comfortable lifestyle and that he has the "historical capacity to earn at a level close to four times the attributed income."

We discern no error. The judge considered these issues and made such findings as were necessary, all of which are supported by the evidence. In her findings, the judge considered employment prospects and potential income commensurate with the husband's education, training, and employment history, including his past earnings. Reduced to essentials, the judge found that the husband has an ability to obtain employment in several fields, including the law, which would yield sufficient income.

So much for changing careers. In this case, the lawyer's leap off the treadmill may have been an exercise in futility. But then again, he has had the last seven years off.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on June 30, 2008 at 01:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

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