What is Imputed Income in California Child Support Orders?

Hossein Berenji, May 22, 2018

Parents in the throws of a heated divorce can often lose sight of the things that matter. Child support, for example, can be incredibly important to a child’s development, health, and well-being. Unfortunately, some parents tend to resist or dodge child support obligations, forgetting that these payments are for the benefit of their children.

One way that a parent may try to dodge or reduce child support obligations is by changing an important factor in the calculation of child support requirements: income. Child support is determined, in part, based on each parent’s income, earnings, and assets. While timeshare custody is also important, income tends to be the most influential factor in child support determinations. Some parents have found that reducing or eliminating their income can help them to shed their child support obligations.

California law, however, provides a way for courts to prevent parents from shirking their lawful obligation to care for their children financially. If there is evidence to show that a parent has intentionally altered his or her income to minimize child support obligations, a judge has the authority to impute income to that parent.

What is Imputed Income?

Courts can impute income to a parent. What does this mean? Imputing simply means to assign value to something based on inferences and evidence. If there is evidence that a parent has the ability to earn a certain amount of money, but that they have taken steps to reduce their income to avoid paying child support, a court will calculate child support based on that evidence. In other words, courts can refuse to accept that a parent’s income has changed and, instead, require them to pay support based on their prior income or earning potential. Courts “impute” the parent’s income back into the equation.

Imputed Income Example

John and Sue decide to get a divorce. Prior to the split, John was earning $150,000 a year, while Sue was earning $30,000 a year. Sue will have primary physical custody of their daughter, Sam. Specifically, Sue will have custody for 70 percent of the time, while John will have custody 30 percent of the time

Since John earns so much more and spends so much less time with their child, Sue thinks he should be obligated to pay child support. John is angry is Sue and thinks that she is trying to punish him. He’s already obligated to pay alimony and thinks that asking for child support, as well, is too much. In order to avoid a court order to pay child support, John quits his job and takes a minimum wage position.

When their child support argument reaches the court, Sue offers evidence to show that John has the ability to earn six figures a year and simply changed his income to punish her and their child. The court, after reviewing the evidence, decides to require John to pay child support based on his $150,000 a year income, rather than his new $22,800 a year income. The court has imputed his old income into the equation to prevent him from skipping out on his duty to take care of his child.

Will a Court Always Impute Income?

No. Courts will only impute income when a parent voluntarily changes their job and/or income. Specifically, courts will impute income when a parent is voluntarily unemployed or voluntarily underemployed. In other words, if a parent stops working or takes a job that does not meet their earning potential, courts may decide to step in and impute income for the purposes of child support.

Courts will generally not impute income if a parent is involuntarily unemployed or underemployed. So, if a parent is fired from their job, laid off, or becomes disabled, a court will typically not punish them for something that is simply out of their control. The court will always do what is in the best interest of the child without putting an undue burden on a parent. Many times, the deciding factor in whether or not income should be imputed is if the parent’s actions were voluntary.

Remembering the Purpose Child Support

Child support is paid, as the name suggests, to support a child. It is quite easy to forget this if you’re in the middle of a contentious divorce. Many times, parents who are required to pay both child support and spousal support feel that their ex-spouse is gaming the system and taking advantage of them after a split.

However, child support and spousal support payment shave two distinct purposes. Courts will rarely require the payment of one or another if it is not deemed to be necessary. It’s important to keep in mind that parents who abuse the right to receive child support payments can face some harsh consequences.

Los Angeles Family Law Attorneys

Is your spouse refusing to report his or her income correctly? Is your child not receiving the financial support they need, as a result? Contact the Los Angeles family law attorneys at Berenji & Associates for help.

We will fight to make sure that child support obligations are calculated properly so that your child gets what he or she deserves. If your ex-spouse has voluntarily quit their job or is willfully underemployed, we will argue that their prior income should be imputed for the purposes of support calculations. Call us today to schedule a free case evaluation with our legal team.