What Does It Mean When The Court Imputes A Parent's Income?

Posted on: 27 August 2018

Most parents do right by their children and contribute in every way to their care and well-being, including financially. As the $32.9 billion in child support arrears can attest, however, some parents don't want to foot their fair share. The court has many tools available to get parents to pay what they owe, and one of those is to impute their incomes. Here's more information about this legal maneuver.

Deciding Your Income for You

When drawing up child support orders, the courts calculate how much each parent can pay based on their gross incomes. This includes money they get from their jobs or businesses, benefits programs such as Social Security, workers' compensation, and unemployment. The court does not take into account allowable deductions like union dues and retirement contributions because these items can fluctuate.

The courts expect parents to be honest about their incomes, but some will either lie or purposefully commit acts that reduce how much they make. For instance, a paying parent may quit their job with the hope that they won't have to pay child support if they have no income. In cases such as these, the court will assign an income amount to the problematic parent and base the child support order on that regardless of what the parent is actually making.

Triggering Income Imputation

Income imputation doesn't happen often and only occurs in cases where the judge feels the parent is attempting to get out of paying child support. A sudden drop in income will typically trigger an investigation. If the judge feels the cut in wages wasn't justified or legitimate, he or she will impute that parent's income to force the person to pay his or her portion of the kids' upkeep.

For example, the paying parent reports a 50 percent drop in wages from the previous year and says it's because he or she is working less hours. If the court finds the parent is working less hours because the person voluntarily switched to a part-time position, the judge will set the parent's income amount to what it would be if the person was working full-time.

Imputation can also be triggered by the custodial parent challenging your reported income. If your co-parent provides proof to the court that your income claims are false or that you're artificially suppressing your wages, the judge will make the necessary adjustments, which may or may not be applied retroactively.

Avoiding Imputation

The easiest way to avoid this problem is to be up front and honest about your income and to ensure any changes in your wages are for legitimate reasons. For instance, the court won't impute your income if you were involuntarily terminated from your job because your employer eliminated a slew of positions at the company. You also won't face this issue if you were forced to take a lower-paying job because of an injury. As long as you can furnish proof your change in income was beyond your control, you should be okay.

Even if the judge decides to impute your income, you may still be able to challenge the amount he or she sets it at. When imputing a parent's income, the judge will always strive to set it at a level the person could potentially make based on a variety of factors, such as past income, current employment, and health or disability issues.

If you can show your ability to make the same amount of money you were before has been genuinely negatively impacted, the judge may set the income at a lower level. For instance, if you specialize in a specific type of job but there aren't any positions available in your area—thus making it difficult to maximize your earnings—the judge may set the imputed amount lower based on what you could make in different positions you qualify for based on your skills and work history.

Dealing with an imputed income situation can be complex. It's best to consult with a family attorney for advice and assistance with ensuring the child support amount you're ordered to pay is fair. Contact a law firm like Harford Family Law for more information.