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Imputing Income to a Parent in Florida, Even When that Parent Has a Disability

dollarsIn any divorce case that involves minor children, the issues of child custody and child support are likely to be important elements of the case. Sometimes, if your spouse is determined by the court to be voluntarily underemployed or unemployed, you may be entitled to a larger child support payment (if you’re the recipient parent) or a smaller child support obligation (if you’re the supporting parent) based upon what’s known as imputing income to your spouse. Making a successful argument for the imputation of income often requires very detailed knowledge of both the facts and the law and can be a place where a knowledgeable South Florida child support attorney can help you. A recent case originally from Miami-Dade County demonstrates how you can succeed, even if your spouse claims to be disabled.

The case involved Michelle and Charles, a couple who married in 1992 and remained that way for 22 years. They had four children. The couple’s divorce trial focused on, among other things, the amount of child support the wife should receive. The husband was a fishing guide who made more than $80,000 per year. The wife, who had earned $20 per hour in the past as a bookkeeper, suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome and was unemployed at the time of the divorce.

When the trial court calculated child support, it set the husband’s income as $84,427. On the wife’s side, it counted as income several monthly payments she regularly received, and the trial judge also imputed income to the wife in the amount of $487 per month. Based on these numbers, the court ordered the husband to pay $799 per month in child support. The wife appealed this ruling but decided to go forward in her appellate case without an attorney. One of the issues she argued in her appeal was the trial judge’s decision to impute a part-time income to her in calculating child support.

The self-represented wife lost her appeals case, with the Third DCA concluding that the trial judge had sufficient evidence to impute income to her. In order to impute income to a spouse in a child support case, the court must find that the spouse to whom it imputes income is either voluntarily underemployed or voluntarily unemployed. Once the court finds that a parent is voluntarily underemployed/unemployed, the court will impute income unless that parent successfully persuades the court that the underemployment/unemployment is actually the result of some force(s) outside the parent’s control, like disability.

In this dispute, the wife had evidence that tended to support her argument that her unemployment was outside her control, since she was disabled due to her chronic fatigue syndrome. Unfortunately, there was also ample evidence in the case that worked against her when it came to showing voluntary unemployment. The wife admitted in a deposition that she was capable of working part-time. Additionally, she acknowledged that, back in 2012, she worked 20 hours per week making $20 per hour, even though her chronic fatigue syndrome’s severity was the same as it was at the time of her divorce trial. Based on those facts, the appeals court decided that it wasn’t unreasonable for the trial judge to impute income equal to $15 per hour, 15 hours per week, every other week, since all of those numbers were well over what the wife actually earned in 2012.

This case is educational on two fronts:  one being just what it takes to avoid a court imputing income to you once the judge has found you voluntarily underemployed/unemployed and the other being the profound importance of having experienced counsel by your side through every step of the process. The skilled South Florida child support attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. have been helping people with child support and other family law issues for many years. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.

More blog posts:

Florida Appeals Court Imputes Income, Assigns Child Support Obligation to Incarcerated Father, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, April 27, 2017

Hearsay Rule Prevents Admission of Florida Husband’s Bank Statements for Purpose of Imputing Income, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Feb. 3, 2017

Photo Credit: NikolayFrolochkin, [CC0 License], via Pixabay

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