What Happens to My Child Support Payment if I Quit My Job?
Courts use the actual incomes of both parents to calculate child support. Some people think that by working less or changing jobs to earn less before court that they can make the child support lower. Doing so in an effort to reduce the child support is a bad idea to do so. The Child Support Guidelines require the court to use your actual income in determining child support. However, if a parent is underemployed in bad faith or if the parent is deliberately suppressing his or her income to reduce the child support obligation, the court can assign an income based on what the parent is capable of earning. For example, if you are a medical doctor and earn $100,000.00 per year, and you quit your job to work at the mall earning $20,000.00 per year to avoid paying as much child support (or to get more support), the court can impute an income of $100,000.00 to you. Motive is crucial for the court to determine.
Basing the income on what a parent is capable of earning instead of the actual income is known as imputing income. The court can also impute income if the parent has “deliberate disregard” for the child’s support. Askew v. Askew, 119 N.C. App. 244 (1995). Imputing income is a two-way street. If the parent who is deliberately trying to reduce income is the one who has physical custody, the court may still impute income. Although that parent is not the one paying child support, the amount he or she receives will be reduced if the court imputes income.
Assuming the judge rules you are acting in bad faith to avoid or minimize child support, what income should be imputed? The judge must consider the individual attributes you have, such as your recent work history, education, training and qualifications. If you don’t have a recent work history or training, the court will assign an imputed income of minimum wage. Perhaps more importantly, the Guidelines require the court to look at the local job market and incomes in the community.
No Imputed Income
The court can’t use your potential income if you are under-employed because the child is three years old or younger, so long as the child is the one at issue in the child support case. If the child is not the one at issue, meaning he or she is a sibling by another person, income may still be imputed to you if the judge believes you are doing so in bad faith, deliberately minimizing your child support obligation (or seeking to increase the child support paid to you). The court cannot impute income to you if you are “physically or mentally incapacitated.” In one example of good faith related to income is Ellis v. Ellis, 126 NC App. 362 (1997). In it, the NC Court of Appeals ruled a school psychologist should not have income imputed to him for being “voluntarily unemployed” during the summer recess.
Amy A. Edwards is a family law attorney in Greenville, NC, certified by the NC State Bar Board of Legal Specialization as a Family Law Specialist, and is licensed only in NC. Laws change. This article is current as of July 2016. www.AmyEdwardsFamilyLaw.com © 2016.