If you are familiar with Florida’s legal rules that relate to child support, then you may have heard the phrase “imputed income.” Imputed income means that, when it comes to calculating child support, a court will perform that calculation based upon that imputed income amount, even though the paying parent’s actual income is less–sometimes significantly less. A court may assign imputed income because the paying parent is unemployed by choice, or is voluntarily employed in a job making less than what he’s capable of earning. These rules exist to prevent a paying spouse from not working or underperforming by choice in order to avoid paying more child support.
So, then, one important question that may be on your mind is when, exactly, can a court impute income? What if I relocated to a new city and the job prospects there are less lucrative? What if I began working fewer hours because I needed to care for a seriously ill family member? What if I decided that I simply wanted to “slow down” a bit in terms of work? For helpful answers to questions about your specific situation, be sure to consult a knowledgeable South Florida family law attorney.
D.W. and T.W. were parents involved in this kind of dispute. When they divorced in 2009, the father agreed to pay $550 per month in child support. Several years later, financial circumstances had changed and both parents were back in court seeking a modification of child support. The father, who was once a high-level executive chef and had also owned his own restaurant in the Panama City area, had left that work to run a small coffee shop with his current wife.
The mother was successful in court, as the trial judge determined that the father’s child support amount should be increased. Specifically, the court imputed an income of around $100,000, which resulted in a substantial increase in his child support obligation.
Choosing to pursue a slower pace of life at work is voluntary underemployment
The father appealed, and each parent achieved a partial success. The court’s ruling is helpful in terms of illustrating how imputed-income cases work. The appeals court explained that the trial judge was permitted to impute income to the father. The father said that he shifted from owning and operating a restaurant to owning and operating a small, less-profitable coffee shop with his new wife because he wanted to “slow down some” at work. A reduction in income as a result of a decision to satisfy a desire to enjoy a slower pace of life is considered to be a free choice. In other words, it amounts to voluntary underemployment, and allows for the imputing of income.
What the court in D.W.’s case was not allowed to do, however, was impute income at the level of $100,000. While the father once earned six-figure incomes previously in his career, there was no evidence that he had the present ability to make $100,000 or more in his community in the Panama City area. The law does not require a paying parent to travel far and wide in search of the most lucrative work anywhere. Instead, when it comes to imputing income, the law says that income can only be imputed to the level of “current, prevailing earnings… in the pertinent community.” All the evidence in D.W.’s case of six-figure earning opportunities were things that had existed in the past or were not available at the time of this litigation. Based on that proof, there was no permissible ground for imputing income to the father at the high level of $100,000.
Whether you are in the court system contesting child support, alimony, property division or something other aspect of family law, be sure you have the capable counsel you need on your side. The South Florida family law attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. have been providing clients with helpful advice and strong representation for many years. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.
More blog posts:
Imputing Income to a Non-Working Spouse in a Florida Child Support Case, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, May 30, 2018
Imputing Income to a Parent in Florida, Even When that Parent Has a Disability, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Oct. 12, 2017