Imputed Income – What That Means for Child Support

Some people will do anything they can to get out of paying a fair amount of child support – including quitting a job. Even if one parent is unemployed, the court may utilize a tool called imputed income to determine how much one parent should pay for the care of the minor child or children.

What is imputed income and what does it do?

When we define imputed income as it pertains to child support, we are talking about the court determining how much income the parent could be earning. The court may use this tool if the parent is unemployed or underemployed.


How will the court know if someone is underemployed?

Typically, a party knows how much income their spouse generated during the marriage. If during the discovery phase it is determined that an individual is reporting less earned income than they historically earned, an attorney can request that the court impute a fair income of what the spouse should be or could be earning.

How Does the Court Determine Imputed Income?

In South Florida, the court will look at the individual’s prior earnings, labor statistics showing median income in the South Florida area for jobs for which the spouse is qualified, and even a vocational evaluation to assess earning capacity. Also examined during the process are:

  • Level of education
  • Past employment history
  • Historic earning capacity
  • Employment opportunities in the area

When is it necessary to impute income?

The following are reasons why a court may assign imputed income:

  • A parent is voluntarily unemployed
  • A parent is underemployed when he (or she) could have a higher level of earned income but is choosing not to do so
  • The parent’s lifestyle speaks to a higher level of income than what is claimed
  • When there are other clues of hidden income
  • If the parent has turned down offers of promotion, bonus, or employment

The decision to “cut back” on work hours or improve quality of life by taking a less stressful (and lower paying) job is not reason enough to avoid paying a fair amount of child support. The court will find these to be voluntary reasons for lowering one’s income.

When Is Income Not Imputed?

The court will not impute income in legitimate cases when a parent does not have the ability to earn more money. Examples of legitimate circumstances include:

  • Involuntary loss of job through no fault of their own (but they must make good faith attempts to find new employment)
  • If a parent has gone back to school to improve their earning capacity
  • Inability to work or earn a higher level of pay due to disability or similar valid reasons

Challenging imputed income requires proof of one’s circumstances. That may include job search records, a competing vocational expert, and testimony from the employer.

Whether you are the party whose earning capacity is being questioned, or the party who thinks their spouse is underemployed, it is best to secure the services of a family law attorney in South Florida. Coral Springs attorneys Brodzki Jacobs & Brook are here to help you get through these difficult times. Contact us at (954) 344-7737.