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Do you know how much your skills are worth in the marketplace? The emotional impact of a divorce is exacerbated by financial worries. If you’ve been a stay-at-home mother or out of the workforce for some time, you need to consider returning to work or upgrading your education.

The last time you probably sought advice on vocational matters was when you were in college. Most of us don’t realize the value of expert assistance during divorce. We seek out an attorney and struggle with the other issues on our own. A vocational expert’s opinion is invaluable during the divorce process.  

Rona E. Wexler, M.A., ABVE/D is certified with the American Board of Vocational Experts (ABVE). Her status is Diplomate, which requires a Master’s or Doctorate degree and relevant experience, including “seven years of documented experience in the area of assessment of vocational capacity and vocational expert opinion and demonstration of distinguished performance or recognition as a vocational expert.”  

Rona works with family law attorneys to assess earning capacity and employability. She helps both sides come to an agreement regarding maintenance and child support. Rona also educates clients and counsels them regarding employment issues. She has an extensive network of contacts and will refer a client to colleagues in other fields, such as career coaching, if they need to upgrade their skills to reenter the career world.

Rona’s practice is based is New York and extends to Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Florida.

Rona has made presentations to a number of professional organizations and her articles have been published in law journals such as the New York Law Journal and the New York State Bar Association Family Law Review.

Rona is a delightful woman who has spent her career empowering people to make the right choices and move forward after the trauma of divorce.

First Wives World had the pleasure of speaking with Rona to learn about her valuable contribution to the divorce process. 

Can you tell us a bit about your background and what inspired you to become a Vocational Expert?

Rona: After a brief career in teaching, I completed a Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology that included vocational assessment training. I began my career in higher education, expanded a college’s full-time career services department and then moved into corporate America in a Fortune 100 company as a sales executive, manager and business services consultant. I worked with a diverse client list in a wide range of industries and government. I used that experience when I led an executive recruiting firm. During that time, I began my new practice in forensic vocational (employability) assessments. Over the past 11 years, I have specialized in matrimonial cases and employment litigation working with cases in the tri-state area, California, Washington, D.C and Florida. 

How long have you been practicing and what changes have you seen over the years regarding women’s earning capabilities? 

Rona: I have counseled and mentored women for over 25 years and been in forensic employability assessments for about a dozen years. I’ve seen women find more opportunities and achieve senior leadership positions with comparable earnings to men in certain markets and industries, but they are still seriously underrepresented and paid less in others.

In many marriages/relationships women have outpaced their spouses in earnings. I’ve seen women become more comfortable with their ambition, drive and desire to succeed. In my work with matrimonial clients, I see women (and sometimes men) who completely stepped out of the workforce, often to raise their children, care for a family member such as an aging or sick parent, or transition into something else. When the marriage ends, these women face a longer, more difficult reentry to the workforce. 

The longer the absence the more challenging the task of resuming their career at levels commensurate with their past experience, education and ability. It is the woman who experiences the greater loss to her career, short and long-term loss of income and future earning capacity. This is why I counsel women and men to remain in their career, at least in part-time roles, so as to maintain skills, visibility and professional contacts. Yes, it is challenging. The cost of childcare and other services may appear to be a poor return for the income earned, but that is for the short term because it has greater impact on longer-term earning capacity. 

Potential divorce is not the only reason to remain in the workforce. Life brings changes such as health – perhaps a disabling accident or illness to a spouse, a child or other family member. These will present unexpected financial burdens. The non-working spouse may need to take on greater financial responsibility which is more difficult if she has been entirely out of the job market for even a few years.

Many of us are unfamiliar with the work of a Vocational Expert, especially for divorce cases. Are you hired by an individual or by an attorney during divorce proceedings and when should a woman seek the advice or services of a Vocational Expert? 

Rona: Generally, the agreement is made with the attorney to maintain confidentiality. Sometimes the client researches on her own and finds me through a referral or the Internet.

When questions may arise about either person’s earning capacity, I always recommend that the woman or her attorney seek an early consultation with a vocational expert. A brief initial consultation is usually at no charge; however, it can provide an early “reality check” during this emotional process.  In the initial stages of the divorce, I suggest that the attorney indicate that a vocational expert may be engaged.  Even if an expert will not be needed, the expert can advise the client and lawyer about information and documents to obtain in the event an expert evaluation is needed later in the proceeding. Many times a case moves towards settlement, but at the last stages, new questions arise about how to determine the amount and duration of support. It is then that an expert may be engaged, but often there is not enough good information with which to produce a credible, well-supported opinion and report. So talk to the expert early in the case to be sure you have that information in case it is needed later on.

Are you ever a neutral or do you work for one side in the divorce? 

Rona: I do work as a neutral. Many attorneys have worked with me and have trusted me to be a neutral evaluator and provide an objective, even-handed expert opinion. More often, I am retained by one side.

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When you are determining a woman’s employment capabilities and future income, what sources of information do you use and what factors do you take into account when preparing your assessment? For instance, if a woman is in a career such as real estate, where there are so many variables and the market is up and down, how do you make this determination? 

Rona: After I review the woman’s education and employment/volunteer experiences and assess her skills, I consider many other factors. These include a person’s length of time out of the job market, her age, medical condition, her ability, motivation, time and cost to be trained for a new career/occupation. I consider if the person’s skills need to be updated, or how his/her absence will be considered by prospective employers in the current market. I reference numerous standard wage data tables and surveys. I also conduct a labor market survey to understand how the market and industry have changed for the recommended occupations. If she has been employed in real estate, for example, the changes in the market do come into play as does her track record during stronger and weaker market conditions and how her skills can be applied to other occupations.

If a woman has been a stay at home mother, or an older woman who never worked outside of the home, do you recommend any steps for reentering the workforce or returning to school to upgrade or learn a skill? 

Rona: Yes, I often recommend that. There are certain webinars I recommend about looking for a job. It is imperative that they have up-to-date computer/keyboard skills (Microsoft Office, perhaps QuickBooks).  They should know how to use a smartphone and some social media. I suggest they seek a career counselor to identify careers/occupations to explore, consider the training required, current and long-term job outlook and decide if it is a fit and good return on investment of time and money. 

At the very least, a good career/job search coach is important to prepare for a job search: preparing a resume, introductory statement when networking, learning how to network effectively, using appropriate social media for a job search, planning and executing an effective job search, strengthening interview skills and follow-up. 

Do you work with other experts, such as counselors to help women transition through this difficult time and come to terms with their new financial status, which is often one of the most stressful issues to deal with in a divorce?

Rona: I certainly recommend that women work with other counselors if they are not already doing so. I may refer them to career counselors and job search consultants, divorce coaches who can help them navigate the difficult process of divorce and help them understand other support they may need. If their divorce attorney does not suggest other advisors such as divorce financial planners, trust and estate attorneys or mortgage brokers, I have a deep network of exceptional trusted advisors.

If one of the spouses has a change in earning potential after the divorce, for example a woman gets a promotion and salary increase or her ex-spouse gives up his corporate job to become a starving musician, do you reevaluate the situation? Do people (such as an ex-spouse) ever try to dispute the results of an evaluation because they don’t want to have to pay their ex more money in maintenance or support? 

Rona: Yes, I do get involved in these cases. When spouses lose their jobs, they may quickly seek to change their support obligation. When a spouse voluntarily leaves a job for a far lower paying one it is up to that spouse to prove his or her case about why he could not find employment with compensation at or close to prior earnings. 

I can be called by either side to offer an opinion about the changes in the market and how it affects the spouse’s ability to find another job with comparable compensation. I am often asked to assess the diligence of person’s job search efforts (detailed documentation is very important here) in order to form an expert opinion.

What advice do you have for women who are considering a divorce but are afraid to leave because they don’t feel that their earning power is enough to support their lifestyle or their children? 

Rona: For many families, it is very difficult to maintain the same lifestyle after divorce when the same income must support two households. That doesn’t mean the family lives in poverty, even if that is her greatest fear. The changes are challenging and it is important for her to find support from personal and professional resources. Divorce and career coaches can help women see past the paralyzing feelings of loss and fear during the divorce. They can guide her to see the opportunity to create a more fully expressed, empowered life that benefits her and her family. 

A woman often underestimates the strength and pride her children gain by taking on more self-responsibility: pride in themselves and in her. Another option is for a woman to seek a skilled career counselor to explore her options, understand what additional training is required and get started while she is still married. The counselor can help her strengthen her confidence and skills, decrease her fears. This will also help her during the divorce process.

Thank you, Rona! We appreciate all the wonderful advice you have provided.

Are you worried about your earning power after divorce or how you are going to support your family on one salary? Share your stories in the comment box below.

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  • Comment Link Malcolm Marcoulides Thursday, 04 February 2016 21:45 posted by Malcolm Marcoulides

    I am getting a divorce and am interested in your service

  • Comment Link Sabrina Sunday, 26 April 2015 23:45 posted by Sabrina

    I have been injured in an auto accident. My doctor wanted to disable me. But I have been home with my disabled husband and raising our two children. I was denied disability because I had not held a full time job in the past five years. I am still disabled and I am still thinking about divorce. He is extremely verbally abusive. I was hoping he'd get less abusive, but just the opposite. We have been married 16 years. Now that I stay in pain with out of control blood pressure I can't handle his constant verbal assaults. What can I do for support? I can get SSI. But I need to support myself until then. I am living in P.C.B. Florida. I am only 48. I am so tired of listening to the cursing and screaming. I want out now. My life is gonna be over very soon if I stay in this stress. My children tell me this. They want to move now. My son is old enough. My daughter will have to live with me. She is 17 in July.

  • Comment Link MS. Kathy Cochran Tuesday, 03 March 2015 20:57 posted by MS. Kathy Cochran

    Dear Rona,
    I am one of those married woman who was out of the work force for about 5-6 years then got into real estate. I was still married and working for my Broker husband. We had 2 children at home. After 17 years of marriage and his midlife crisis, We divorced& split our assets. I had to leave his company and start over. He was a managing broker so kept his higher income. I have been divorced now 31 years. When the real estate market went sour here in Va Beach, Va. in 2009 I started drawing Social Security so I'd have some income. I had just turned 62. I recently retired from Real Estate at 66 with some health issues.
    I do receive $1300 in alimony( I gave him all our investment properties at the time of the divorce) and social security of $755 a month. If my ex husband dies I lose the $1300 a month income and only have $755 to live on. I had in my stimulation agreement a life insurance policy he was to maintain until his death with me the beneficiary. The policy was one we had for 18 years of marriage. I found out recently he has stopped payments on this policy since 2007.
    The amount was for $70,000. I was hoping to have something to fall back on in the event of his death.
    $755 is not much to live on. I do have some savings, but find I'm having to go in it from time to time. The area I live in does not pay well because it is a military town. The highest pay I have ever received on part time jobs is $10.00 an hour. I work part time right now 2 days a week making 9.75 an hour. I've been here 5 years. I am very anxious about what I will live on in the event my ex husband dies before me, Any suggestions. By the way I have worked usually a part time job in addition to real estate over the years. I physically cannot work like that now. I turn 67 this year and plan on continuing to work part time. My question, since the life insurance was in my stipulation agreement he signed and he was to maintain it. Can't I go see an attorney about getting him to get another policy.
    His income when we divorced in 1987 was roughly $72,000. I have never made that kind of money. my income is roughly $27,000 total. I live very frugal and drive a 10 year old car. I had no idea it would be this hard when I divorced at 38 years old to make a living in my older years. The only jobs out there are fast food, $8-10 an hour jobs. Any suggestions for job opportunities for older woman?
    thanks for your input. Had I known what I know now a government job or medical or dental would have been a better career.
    A Virginia Lady

  • Comment Link Jane Wednesday, 26 November 2014 00:11 posted by Jane

    I have a divorce case and the atterney of my soon to be ex is askig to take the vocational assesment though, there was no change in my skills, education or employment, or income in the last 6 years. I want to know my rights and how can I find a fair psychologistic in my area who can help me in this matter.

  • Comment Link Jason and Christina Sharman Saturday, 15 February 2014 05:46 posted by Jason and Christina Sharman

    Hi. My husband is looking for a vocational expert. We are in L.A. Can you please refer us?

  • Comment Link FlyingSolo Wednesday, 04 December 2013 18:43 posted by FlyingSolo

    What a great article!

    I am 49 years old, have a college degree, divorced 3 years ago after 23 years of marriage, was a stay-at-home mom for 20 years. During my divorce I had one child in college and one still in high school. I stayed put until the youngest got situated in college. Once that occurred, I felt I could finally concentrate on myself.

    I recently sold my house and moved to another state to be near family while I try to figure out what to do with my life... This isn't where I plan to stay, but it's affordable and I have the security of family close by.

    My work history is pretty sparse. Got married right after college. Soon thereafter we moved to my ex's small hometown. I only worked for a few years before we started our family. I did work part-time from home for my ex, assisting with billing and collections for his small business. Overall, however, my resume looks pretty sad. I did take a MS Office course after the divorce to brush up on those skills.

    Since my divorce I have had a couple of menial office jobs to generate income, but I am desperate to find employment/career that is meaningful and has enough earnings so that I can live comfortably and be able to save a little money - not just getting-by.

    I am at a total loss at defining exactly what kind of work that may be AND I am paralyzed with fear about starting over at my age. I never dreamed I would be in this position now. I feel I am so far out of the loop and have lost myself along the way. To top things off, here I am in a new town (and a small one) where I don't know anyone. Currently, I am living off of my savings which makes me very nervous. I don't know where or how to find my niche...

    I wish my legal counsel had steered me toward someone who could have helped with these issues while I was going through my divorce. I feel as though I have lost valuable time. I will be looking for a career counselor/coach as I try to figure things out and hopefully soon will be able to take the first step toward redefining myself.