One of the potential contractors for our job says that if the return is large enough to require cutting a joist in the attic, then the space should be boxed by a licensed carpenter. This guy says he used to build houses for a living and understands the physical forces that a joist is responsible for resisting. He may have said something about a header or a double header.
Another contractor (who has never claimed to be a carpenter) says they cut large returns and joists all the time and boxing is a simple thing they do and it doesn't require a licensed carpenter. It sounds like he's just going to nail a piece of wood (the horizontal dashes below) for each end of the cut joist
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What do you think? (sorry dont have time to line up the ascii art)