In California, both parents are legally responsible for the financial support of their children whether or not they are married. Income is an important factor in figuring out how much child support is owed. However, some parents intentionally reduce their income in order to avoid child support. In that case, courts will “impute” income to parents.
What is Imputed Income?
Imputed income is income that is attributed or credited to a parent even though the parent is not actually earning that amount. Judges impute income to ensure that children’s needs are met and to deter parents from shirking their responsibilities.
If a parent has been earning good income in a stable, full-time job and suddenly states that they make no income, the judge is going to want to know why. If it comes to light that the parent voluntarily quit work, the judge may impute income. To determine the amount of imputed income, the court would likely use the most recent amount of income reported.
California courts look at three factors to determining whether to impute income:
- willingness to work
- opportunity to work, and
- ability to work
It’s important for the judge to understand the reason for the unemployment or underemployment because it is important in determining whether to impute income.
How Much Income to Impute?
The parent’s earning capacity or income potential is determined and used when the courts are deciding how much income to impute.
Educational level is used most often as a way to determine income potential as well as work skills and employment history. Willingness to work is determined by behavior or recent actions such as: searching for jobs, sending out resumes, and going to interviews. Opportunity to work takes into account the availability of appropriate jobs opportunities in the local area: Are companies in the parent’s field hiring or is there an employment slump?
A court can determine how much to impute by reviewing evidence regarding salaries for a job that parent would qualify for as well as the parent’s ability and opportunity to work. Occasionally, if it’s too difficult to determine income potential, the court will impute minimum wage.
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