Many people know that child support is based on each spouse’s income. That would lead you to believe that in order to reduce a child support obligation or increase support (if you are the party that anticipates receiving child support), all you need to do is make less money. Quit your job. Reduce your work hours. Do not do anything to make too much money.
The problem with that “strategy” is that New Jersey law allows courts to impute income. Imputing income allows the court to assume that a party is making a certain amount as earnings, even if the party is not actually earning that amount, and calculate child support or alimony based on that number. Doing this prevents or discouraged parties from voluntarily and temporarily “under employing themselves.”
How does a court know much income to impute to a party that is voluntarily underemployed? The court will look to a number of factors, including:
- The parent’s previous work and salary history, education, and the amount of possible job opportunities ands what those opportunities pay
- If there is no or insufficient former income to base an imputed income on, the court can look at the New Jersey Department of Labor statistics, to see what someone in a similar profession can be expected to make
- If there is absolutely no way to determine an accurate earnings figure for imputing income, the court will default to full time work at New Jersey’s current minimum wage.
Imputing income is often necessary when a spouse’s business was once successful but suddenly, when faced with divorce and support, the business is unsuccessful. Courts know that the party may be fully capable of making income other ways, and will not allow a spouse to claim poverty because of a temporary downturn in income.
Legitimate or Not?
Of course, sometimes a party’s income does, legitimately, disappear. A party may become injured or disabled to an extent that he or she suddenly earns less than the spouse once did. The court must determine whether imputation is proper—just because a party is earning less, does not automatically make it proper to impute income.
Imputing income can be a touchy subject because a court is forcing a parry to pay support as if the party was making a living that he or she is not actually making. That can end up forcing a party to earn a living commensurate with his or her education, training, and job history in order to meet the support obligation.
On the other hand it can result in a payment figure that is unreasonable, and impossible for the party to ever meet, if the downturn in income is legitimate.
This is why if a spouse is claiming that you are earning less than you can or should be earning, it is vitally important that you get a good family law lawyer to help you.
Plan ahead for the child custody and visitation in your divorce. Contact The Law Office of Agnes Rybar LLC for help and guidance in your family law case if you are getting divorced with minor children of the marriage.