When parents are married, ensuring that their children are taken care of financially is fairly simple. When parents get divorced, however, things can become more complicated. In California, both parents bear an equal responsibility for taking care of any children they share. Child support often plays an important role in a child’s life after divorce.

Child support is calculated, in part, on the income earned by both parents. Unfortunately, some parents attempt to reduce their income after getting divorced to reduce their child support obligations. This is generally done with the intent to punish the other parent. However, the child for whom the support is intended will be the one to suffer the consequences. In California, if a parent has a drastic change in income after a divorce or separation, courts have the authority to impute income to the parent to ensure that child support is calculated properly.

Who Pays Child Support?

Child support is a tool that helps to make sure that a child receives all necessary care and financial support that is necessary.  In California, both parents have an obligation to provide equally for their children. However, many child support arrangements only require one parent to pay.

Why? When parents get divorced, they must figure out how custody of their children will be divided. Will one parent have primary physical custody of the child, while the other has visitation rights? Will both parents split physical custody evenly? The answer to this question will help to determine which parent will bear the burden of paying child support.

In most cases, the parent with whom the child lives the most (known as the custodial parent) will receive child support payments. Why? It’s assumed that the custodial parent is already paying for many of the child’s needs. Since the non-custodial parent is spending less out-of-pocket for the child’s everyday needs, support helps to level the playing field.

What if both parents share a fairly equal amount of time with the child? A court will likely require child support payments to the parent who earns less money.

What is Imputed Income?

What does it mean to “impute” income to a parent? Imputed, by definition, means assigning value to something using inference to determine its true value. This is important in the context of child custody when a parent tries to cheat the system and reduce the support they may be required to pay.

Here’s an example:

Joe and Sally, who have a 5-year-old daughter, get a divorce. Before the divorce, Joe was earning $80,000 a year. Once Sally asked for a divorce and requested primary physical custody of their daughter, Joe decided that he would take a significant pay cut so that he wouldn’t be forced to pay support. When Joe and Sally could not agree on child support payments, a court stepped in to resolve the issue. At the hearing, Joe asserted that he now only earned minimum wage, and that support should be calculated using his new income, rather than his old income.

A judge would review Joe’s change in circumstances and try to understand why his income has changed so significantly in such a short amount of time. If Sally believed that the reduced income was an effort to avoid paying child support, she would have the opportunity to present evidence supporting that. If a judge decided that there was no reasonable explanation for the change in income, he or she could impute income to Joe. In other words, the judge would decide that child support should be calculated using Joe’s full earning potential, rather than what he is currently bringing in.

When Will Judges Impute Income?

There are two situations when judges will decide to impute income: voluntary unemployment and voluntary underemployment. The important phrasing here is “voluntary.” When a parent decides to become unemployed or accept a job that does not fulfill their earning potential, courts will be unhappy.

Will Judges Always Impute Income?

No. There can be legitimate reasons for the change in a parent’s income or earning capacity. A court will always try to determine what arrangement and requirements serve the best interests of a child. Parents will not be penalized for involuntary unemployment, disability, or other causes of change in income that are out of their control.

Contact an Experienced Child Support Attorney

Is your child’s other parent supposed to be paying child support? Do you believe that they have intentionally reduced their income to reduce the amount of support they’re required to pay? Contact the Los Angeles family law attorneys at Fernandez & Karney for help.

Our Certified Family Law Specialists have over 50 years of experience handling family disputes in Los Angeles. We understand that child support is essential to your child’s wellbeing and will fight to make sure that the other parent pays his or her share. Call today to schedule a free consultation and learn more.