Geographic Considerations and Imputing Income in Florida Child Support Cases

When a parent voluntarily chooses not to work, or to take a job that is below his or her true professional ability, the law calls for the courts to ascertain what that parent’s true earning capacity is in order to assess the proper amount of child support owed to that parent’s children. As a recent 1st District Court of Appeal case points out, the court cannot base its ruling on just any jobs, but only those jobs for which the parent is qualified and that are located in Florida.

The case involved a child support dispute between former spouses Glenn Broga and Linda Broga, who divorced in the summer of 2012 after 21 years of marriage. The couple had three children together. At trial, the wife brought a forensic economist, who testified about the husband’s earning capacity. Despite the husband’s being unemployed, the trial court imputed an annual income of $80,000, based at least in part on the economics expert’s testimony.

The husband appealed several aspects of the court’s dissolution order, achieving the most success with regard to his challenge of the trial court’s imputation of income. The appeals court was not persuaded that the trial erred in imputing income to the husband, but it did take issue with how the court went about it.

Imputing income requires two steps. First, the trial court must decide that the spouse to whom it is imputing income is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed. It’s worth noting that the process of seeking appropriate employment does not require leaving the state. In 2000, the 1st DCA ruled that an engineer’s refusal to consider jobs in Texas, Louisiana, and Georgia did not make him voluntarily underemployed. In the Broga case, even when considering only Florida jobs, the trial court ruled that the husband’s underemployment was “by choice.” The appeals court agreed, declaring that his arguments to the contrary were completely not credible.

The second step in imputing income involves the court determining how much income to impute. Florida law says that this calculation involves the parent’s “recent work history, occupational qualifications, and prevailing earnings level.” In the Brogas’ case, the economics expert testified that the husband had worked as a corporate pilot, and that corporate pilots generally make between $80,000 and $120,000 per year. The expert opined that the husband should be able to find a new job fairly quickly in that pay range.

The expert’s opinion was based upon imprecise information, however. The expert’s $80,000-$120,000 salary range for the husband did not have the proper geographic restrictions. Imputed income must be based upon prevailing earnings levels “in the community,” meaning how much a pilot like Broga might expect to earn in Florida. The expert’s estimated salary range was based upon consulting two websites, and it was not restricted to pilot jobs in the state of Florida.

Arriving at a proper amount of child support can be a complicated matter. Whether you are the parent receiving the payments on behalf of the children or the parent making the payments, experienced legal counsel can help you present your case in the most effective way possible. For answers to your child support questions, consult the South Florida family law attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. Our hardworking lawyers have many years of experience helping families who have faced issues just like yours.

Contact us online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule a confidential consultation.

More blog posts:

South Florida Political Consultant Convinces Court 2012 Income Was an Anomaly, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Feb. 4, 2015
Terms of Settlement Agreement Block Husband’s Effort to Obtain Statutory Child Support Modification, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Nov. 23, 2013