There are cases where a non-custodial parent is unemployed and has little or no income. Even a person with little or no income can still have an obligation to pay child support. This is because a parent’s child support obligation can be calculated based upon his or her imputed income, as opposed to actual income. Imputed income is income that the court determines an individual should be making with a reasonable effort.
When child support is calculated a number of factors are used to determine each party’s obligation. The parents’ income, the number of children, and insurance expenses are the major elements in determining one’s obligation. It is not infrequent that a parent will manipulate the system in an attempt to lower his or her income which is aimed at reducing that parent’s child support obligation. This is accomplished in a number of ways. People that own their own business have found numerous ways to receive what would otherwise be income through creative accounting. One way that the court system counter’s this is through the use of imputed income. Sometimes this involves imputing minimum wage. Other times, it is much more complicated and a vocational evaluator may be used.
Although unemployment can no doubt affect one’s income adversely, it may not necessarily affect his or her child support obligation. The courts do not always use imputed income to determine one’s child support obligation. Most situations where it is used involve a parent that is unemployed or underemployed voluntarily. In my practice, I have primarily seen imputed income used where a parent is unemployed and the court will impute minimum wage. There are situations in which much higher income has been attempted to be imputed. In one divorce case with no children that I handled, a Wife of an attorney, requested a vocational evaluation to determine the attorney’s true earning capabilities. A court will usually inquire as to why a parent is unemployed or underemployed and whether or not there is justification for it. A case in which unemployment is caused by an accidental injury would be a likely example of one that may be justifiable. A layoff or company downsizing could also account for why an Obligor is unemployed. Trying to prove that someone is underemployed can be difficult and expensive. One has to prove that there is work available and that the Obligor turned it down. Most of the cases I have handled involving the Dept. of Revenue are examples of situations where it is impractical or not economically feasible for the Dept. of Revenue to pay to have a vocational evaluation. One example of a recent case I came across where there is little doubt that a father has a legitimate excuse (arguably) for not working is where a father must stay home to care for a young child with Cerebral Palsy.