Family Law

Child Support and Figuring Your Fair Share: Imputed Income

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In most states courts calculate child support based on the income of both parents and the children's needs. Of course, any parent's income can change for a number of reasons. Job loss is a good example. However, it isn't uncommon for the paying parent to take steps to lower his or her income by refusing promotions or overtime or seeking a lower-paying job. Sometimes a parent hides income or just won't work.

Imputed income is a method courts use to assign or credit an income to a parent for the purpose of child support. If the court finds that either parent is, without just cause, voluntarily underemployed or unemployed, then the court will impute income to that parent. The imputed income is then included in child support calculations.

Counting Imputed Income

How courts calculate imputed income varies by state. State child support laws guide courts in deciding this issue. Courts look at factors like these to calculate imputed income:

  • Education
  • Earning history
  • Employment history
  • Employment opportunities in the area

Courts also look for signs of hidden income. Examples include expenses exceeding claimed income, with no explanation to make up the difference, such as using savings.

At a minimum, imputed income is often based on income a person could have earned from a full-time minimum wage job.

Courts Aim to Be Fair

There are factors and limits courts apply when deciding imputed income issues. Sometimes the reality of a situation is that a parent has a true loss in income and earning power.

A parent's income loss must be voluntary, such as refusing to work. Courts usually won't impute income when a parent looses a job, and makes a good faith effort to find a new one. A parent can show his or her efforts with proof of job loss, and documents showing a job hunt such as job applications, interview appointments and rejection letters.

Courts recognize that a parent can't control every condition affecting his or her earning power. Nobody can control the job market, the economy or even personal changes such as one's health, which can affect earning ability.

Some states' laws recognize that parents aren't expected to work at times. For example, a "nurturing parent" exception allows a parent with young children to stay at home with them without working outside the home. Income won't be imputed to him or her.

Changes in a parent's education are taken into account. Sometimes a parent is a student when a child support order is granted. Once a degree or program is complete, a court may factor in increased earning power when changing a support order. For example, income could be imputed based on what someone with a similar degree or training would earn.

When it comes to child support, disagreements are common and expected, and issues can be complex. Work with your lawyer and arrive at a child support arrangement that is fair to both parents and serves your child.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Can I show that my ex-spouse shifted income to his new spouse?
  • Is it hard to show imputed income if my ex-spouse works for a family business?
  • How can I get the financial records to show imputed income?
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