Child support issues are extremely fascinating to me. I want to write these posts to educate people on the state of the law in Florida, to get your opinions on the law, and to open a dialogue of potential changes that should be made in the future. This will be one of several posts about child support.
I want to first discuss imputation of income. According to Wikipedia, imputation is defined as, “[in statistics], the process of replacing missing data with substituted values.” For child support purposes it means replacing a parent’s actual income for an amount the person should be earning. If a parent is “voluntarily” unemployed or underemployed, that parent is still required to pay child support based on the amount he or she should be earning. The best example is a father was employed as a heart surgeon until his wife decided to divorce him. In his effort to not pay child support, or alimony, he quits his job as a heart surgeon and starts working at McDonalds as a cashier. Under Florida law, he will be ordered to pay child support based on his wages as a heart surgeon, not as cashier. Imputation of income is allowed and is appropriate when a parent is earning less and has the capacity to earn more by use of his or her best efforts.
Imputation of income is a two-step process. The party who wants to impute the income (ie the person who wants the child support) must first prove that unemployment or underemployment is voluntary. This generally means that the person does not have a mental or physical disability that will prevent him or her from working at full earning potential. The second requirement is proof that the unemployment or underemployment is caused by the person’s own actions or inaction. This requires proof that jobs are available in the area where the person lives. There is no bright line rule that automatically states that staying at home to raise minor children, returning to school to get an advanced degree, or even incarceration requires imputation of income. Cases are generally determined on an individual basis based on the facts and circumstances. The amount of income for the imputation is calculated by examining recent work history (no older than 5 years), occupational qualifications, and prevailing earning levels in the geographic area.
Especially important to note is that if a parent’s income is unavailable, or if a parent fails to participate in a child support proceeding, or fails to supply adequate financial information in a child support proceeding, income SHALL automatically be imputed to the parent. I have seen this occur on far too many occasions and the after effects can be devastating. I have seen fathers purposely not participate in child support proceedings because they felt it was a waste of time to appear in court. They felt that child support would be ordered whether they were there or not, so why even go? Those fathers needed to be there to ensure the judge had the proper information. If the father does not participate, the information that the mother provides is taken at face value and child support is ordered based on the information she provides, even if the information is inaccurate. The judges and the parties involved have no way of knowing the true numbers unless both sides participate in the process.
- Do you think imputation of income is fair to the unemployed/underemployed parent?
- Do you think imputation of income is fair to the parent seeking support?
- Do you think income should automatically be imputed if a parent does not participate in child support proceedings?