What Is Imputed Income?

Calculating child support in California takes a complex equation that involves many factors. A judge’s main concern, however, will be each parent’s income level. Sometimes, when reporting income levels, a spouse may lie about his or her wages to avoid a child support order. Imputed income is a unique child support calculation method a judge may incorporate if a parent falsely reports lower income to get out of paying child support.

How Do the Courts Determine Child Support?

The point of child support is not to punish the parent, but to benefit the child. The court’s stance is that divorce should negatively impact children as little as possible. A child should not have to suffer a lower quality of life because of his or her parents’ divorce. Thus, the higher-earning parent may have to pay the other parent child support to maintain the same level of care for children. In California, both parents have a mutual responsibility to support children.

During a California divorce case involving children, the courts will use a specific calculation to determine how much child support one spouse must pay the other. This calculation centers on both parents’ income levels. It also considers tax deductions and how much time each parent will spend taking physical responsibility of children. To make a child support calculation, a judge will ask both parents to submit their income and tax information. It is up to each parent to be truthful in supplying this information.

Lying about one’s income may be an attempt to minimize or avoid paying child support, as well as to punish the other spouse. It is the parent who lied, however, who could face repercussions. The courts calculate child support according to children’s best interests, not the desires of the parents. If a parent reports little or no income, a judge will take matters into his or her own hands. The judge will apply imputed income to the child support equation.

About Imputed Income

Imputed income is an involuntary income assignment the paying spouse will have no control over. A judge may decide to include imputed income in a child support payment if a parent intentionally reported lower income, took a lower-paying job or became unemployed to avoid paying child support. If a parent could be working at least a minimum-wage job but chose not to, a judge may use the imputed income to complete the child support equation.

Imputed income is the amount the parent potentially would have earned at a minimum-wage job. In California, the minimum wage is currently $11 per hour. If the wage amount the parent reported falls below minimum wage, but he or she reasonably could have made more money, the judge will replace the reported income with imputed income in the child support calculation. The parent who reported low to little income will then have to pay the amount in the final calculation to the other spouse.

When Will Imputed Income Apply?

Imputed income is standard practice in the California courts, even though it may not seem fair that the spouse reporting lower income may have to pay. A judge will not automatically use imputed income if a spouse reports low income. It will only come into play if an analysis of the case determines that the parent’s education level, past employment history, earning levels, and current job opportunities in the region mean the spouse could reasonably be making more. If the spouse could not reasonably make more, the higher-earning spouse may have to pay support.

If an investigation uncovers that the reporting spouse has hidden income or assets, a judge may also order imputed income. For example, if the spouse’s history of expenses far exceeds the reported income level, this could be a sign of underreporting. The courts will determine why the parent reported a lower income. If the parent does not have a valid reason, the courts will impute income.