After a divorce, the ex-spouses continue to have a duty to provide for their children financially, but child support payments are usually made by the non-custodial parent. The amount of money owed for child support is determined by the custodial parent’s child-care needs and the non-custodial parent’s ability to pay, measured by income. But how is the amount calculated when the paying parent is unemployed or earning less than his or her potential?
In Washington state, a court will impute income to a parent who is found to be voluntarily unemployed or underemployed — that is, working significantly below their capacity. The purpose of this rule is to prevent a parent from deliberately taking a cut in pay for the purpose of reducing his or her child support obligation.
A finding of voluntariness is based on a number of factors. Some relate to the paying parent’s ability to work, such as their employment history, education, health and age. Others pertain to economic conditions in the locality and in the parent’s industry, profession or vocation.
If there is no record of a parent’s earnings, the court will impute his or her income in a specific order of priority:
- Full-time earnings at the current payment rate
- Full-time earnings at the historical payment rate (where available income is reliable)
- Full-time earnings at a past rate (where available information is unreliable)
- Full-time earnings at minimum wage of the jurisdiction in which the parent resides if he or she has a history of earning minimum wage but is recently coming off receiving public assistance or disability benefits or has recently been released from incarceration
- Median net monthly income of year-round full-time workers per the U.S. bureau of census, current population report or other reports published by the Bureau of Census
When a parent is gainfully employed on a full-time basis but at a lower income than he or she could potentially command, the court will impute a higher income only if it finds the underemployment is purposeful — that is, done with the aim of lowering child support. In addition, income will not be imputed to a parent who is unemployed or underemployed due to his or her efforts to comply with court-ordered reunification efforts or with a voluntary placement agreement with a child supervisory agency.
If you need legal counsel related to child support or other divorce-related issues, the experienced family law attorneys at Bottimore & Associates, P.L.L.C. in Tacoma can help. To learn more or to schedule a consultation, call us at 253-272-5653 or contact us online today.