Job Resignations, Jail Time, and Imputed Income in Florida Child Support Cases

Sometimes, life may deal you multiple bad blows in succession, perhaps including jail time, income loss, and even a breakup of your marriage. If that marriage also included minor children, then you likely can expect your spouse to pursue an award of child support. If that happens, your incarceration or job resignation may lead a court to order you to pay support commensurate with an income that’s higher than what you actually make. This is called imputed income and, while it is sometimes available when events like a job resignation or incarceration occur, it is not automatic. With the help of a skilled South Florida child support lawyer, you can defeat your spouse’s argument for imputed income.

The idea behind imputed income is that a supporting parent should not be able to dodge paying support by voluntarily not working or working at a level far below his/her abilities. If your spouse was a Miami neurosurgeon making $750,000 a year and voluntarily left that job to take a position as a swimming instructor making $40,000 per year, he’s probably going to be considered voluntarily underemployed. A parent’s inability to earn a certain amount of income because of current or past incarceration is something that the law will also often view as voluntary.

Not every job change with a downward salary trajectory is voluntary underemployment, though. Take J.P., a dad from Orange County. He voluntarily left a job that paid him $68,000 per year. Two years later, J.P. was working for his parents and making $30,000 per year. J.P., however, could not be found to be voluntarily underemployed.

Why not? Because a finding of voluntary underemployment or unemployment requires two essential things under Florida law, one of which J.P.’s ex-wife didn’t have. First, the parent requesting child support has to prove that the supporting parent voluntarily left his previous, higher-paying job. Second, the parent requesting support has to prove that the supporting parent made “less than diligent and bona fide efforts to find employment paying income at a level equal to or better than that formerly received.”

In J.P.’s case, the child’s mother had proof of requirement number one, but not number two. The child’s mother gave the court no evidence that tended to show that the father was earning $30,000 per year in income because he had made “less than diligent” attempts to find a higher-paying job.

Sometimes, a supporting parent’s income may dip after a period of incarceration. When that happens, the law may decide that income should be imputed because “an individual’s actions that lead to incarceration are voluntary for purposes of … imputation of income for child support purposes.” Again, though, not every jail stint will trigger an imputation of income. If your child’s other parent seeks to impute income to you because you did some time in jail and now earn less than you did before, she must demonstrate to the court that your failure to earn what you were earning before is caused by or connected to your time in jail.

Without those essential findings, imputing income to a supporting parent is not appropriate. In J.P.’s case, the mother again had an evidence problem. Just like the issue of the diligence of the father’s job search, the mother lacked evidence that J.P.’s inability to get a job paying more than $30,000 per year was a result of his time in jail, so imputing income was not proper.

One of the key things you can take away from J.P.’s matter is that each case is unique. Cases like those addressing imputed income in child support calculations are very fact-intensive and hinge on your ability to put on a strong case and to point out when your ex-spouse has failed to prove what the law requires of him/her. To get that done, make sure you have the right legal advocate in your corner. Call upon the knowledgeable child support attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. to provide you with the powerful legal representation you need. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation today.