One of the things about which the law is abundantly clear is that a parent has a legal obligation to support their minor children. What is not always so clear, however, is exactly how that support should be calculated. Sometimes, parents may try to dodge paying child support (or enhance the amount of child support they receive) by purposefully reducing their workload… or by not working at all. When they do, the law has a solution for that — something called “imputed income.” If your child support case involves an issue of imputed income – whether that income is to be imputed to you or to your child’s other parent – you need an experienced Hoboken family law attorney on your side to handle all of the legal and factual intricacies involved with winning an argument about imputed income.
Generally speaking, child support is calculated using the parents’ actual incomes and the child support “guidelines,” which are set by court rule. Sometimes, though, actual incomes won’t yield a fair outcome. If, for example, a father who is a litigation attorney freely leaves his Bergen County law practice to take a job teaching surfing lessons on Long Beach Island, then the law may look at that parent and say he is “voluntarily underemployed.” When that happens, the court can impute income to that parent at the level he was earning before the job change.
In a scenario like that, the court may calculate the father’s support using, instead of the sum the father actually earned from his teaching job, a figure equal to what father earned his last year as an attorney. The same thing may happen when a parent decides to stop working completely, which is called “voluntary unemployment.”
Most times, though, cases of voluntary underemployment are not as obvious as the hypothetical parent created above, with a recent case from Essex County (Superior Court Chancery Division Case No. FD-2392-07) serving as a good example.
In that case, both the mom, R.F., and the dad, D.C., were police officers. When the son was an early adolescent, the mother went to court seeking an increase in the father’s child support obligation. As part of that case, the father argued that the mother was voluntarily underemployed and that the court should impute income to her.
What was the basis for the father’s claim? Allegedly, the mother’s job offered her opportunities to work overtime, but she did not accept those overtime assignments.
A failure to work overtime is not always voluntary underemployment
That, according to the father, made the mother voluntarily underemployed. The father, however, was not successful in this argument. That was because, before a judge can impute any amount of income to a parent, that judge must first rule that that parent was, in fact, voluntarily underemployed or unemployed.
The court in this mother’s case decided she was not voluntarily underemployed. The judge, in making that ruling, explained that proof that a parent failed to work all the overtime that was available is not, by itself, enough evidence to trigger an imputed income. Instead, the law also requires an analysis of that parent’s “past practices” in order to determine whether or not to impute income. Based on R.F.’s previous work habits, there wasn’t proof that she was voluntarily underemployed, so there was no legal basis for imputing income to her.
What R.F.’s case should show you is that there are a lot of things that are involved in an imputed income child support case – the law, the facts, the evidence… and more. You need someone who understands all of that, and has experience dealing with (and winning) these disputes. For the effective legal representation you deserve, reach out to Hoboken family law attorney Frank Marciano, where you can confidently count on getting the helpful advice and the diligent advocacy you need. To set up a consultation, contact the office online or call 201.656.1000.