Although both parents have a legal duty to support their children after a divorce, it is usually the noncustodial parent (the parent who spends less than half their time with the child) who must pay support to the custodial parent. When calculating how much child support is owed, the courts determine the income level of both parents. However, if one parent isn’t earning up to their true potential, a judge may impute income to that parent.
Imputing income means attributing higher estimated earnings to a parent who is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, based on such factors as employment and earnings history, job skills, education, health, age, criminal history and existing employment barriers.
A judge may impute income to a noncustodial parent owing child support only when unemployment or underemployment is voluntary. This is determined by considering the following:
- Ability — This includes the parent’s education, experience and skills.
- Opportunity — The current job market and the availability of local opportunities in the parent’s field of endeavor may be relevant.
- Willingness — The judge will assess the parent’s record of seeking work, including whether he or she is actively submitting applications and attending interviews.
Courts may determine the amount of income to be imputed based on the unemployed or underemployed parent’s:
- Full-time earnings at their current rate of pay
- Full-time earnings at their past average rate of pay
- Full-time earnings at a past rate of pay where info is incomplete or irregular
- Full-time earnings at minimum wage in their local area, in certain circumstances
If a court does not have this information, it may instead substitute the average income in the U.S. for the parent’s age and gender.
A judge will not impute additional income to a parent who is employed full-time unless that parent is found to be deliberately underemployed to minimize the child support owed. This depends on whether or not that parent demonstrates good faith attempts to find a job or to seek higher education.
If you are facing child support problems, it’s advisable to speak with a family law attorney to discuss the remedies available. At Bottimore & Associates, P.L.L.C. in Tacoma, our legal team has the knowledge, resources and experience to assist you. To set up a consultation with a child support attorney, call us at 253-272-5653 or contact us online.