Divorce, child custody, and support disputes are frequently accompanied by a time of financial turmoil for one or both of the parties. Litigation is expensive, and rearranging your life such that you are now independently responsible for your own expenses without the help of your spouse or partner can mean a lot of changes. In cases involving child support or spousal support disputes, this can hold especially true. Support means that one party needs extra financial assistance and also means the court will order the other party to help provide that assistance. Both spousal support and child support involve determining the income level of both the parties. In some cases, the income of one or both parent may take a nosedive right when it is time to set support. In such a case, it may be appropriate to impute an income to the parent whose income has suddenly dipped.
Imputing an income means the court will disregard the income level claimed by the parent and set a different, higher income. The issue of imputing an income comes into play when one parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed. For example, if during the marriage the wife has had a six-figure job while the husband made substantially less, she may be required to pay spousal support. If the wife then decides to quit her job during the case, it is possible that the husband an ask for her income to be imputed at the amount she made at her high paying job, as she is willfully unemployed. The same principle may apply if the wife quits her high paying job in favor of taking a much lower paying job.
When imputing an income, a judge will examine a party’s earning capacity. To determine this, the historical income level of a party is highly relevant. Even if a spouse has not been employed for a while because, for example, he or she has been a stay-at-home parent, an income will probably still be imputed. If that spouse has a degree, it may be appropriate to impute the income at the average amount a person with that degree typically makes. If the person has no education or skills, the income may be imputed at minimum wage. It is rare for a person to be set a level of zero income, unless he or she truly is completely unable to work.
If you are facing a case involving child or spousal support, contact us today at (732) 529-6937. We are experienced in helping clients with setting appropriate incomes in these cases.