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How can courts order child support from income I never receive?

On Behalf of | Dec 30, 2020 | Family Law |

Washington courts typically determine child support according to the custody arrangement and financial standing of each parent. To decide this, courts use a state support schedule that takes into account the income of each parent and the number and age of any children. From this, a judge will determine the basic support obligation.

But as the Northwest Justice Project explains, courts may ascribe to you income that you do not actually earn. Courts call this “imputing” income, and you may be at risk for a higher child support obligation if a judge decides to impute income to you.

When would a court impute income?

During your child custody and support case, courts will generally require you to produce your tax returns and pay stubs from the past two years. If you do not have these documents, you may need to produce other evidence of your income, financial situation and earning potential. Failing to provide adequate documentation of your financial condition may prompt a court to impute income to you.

A judge may also impute income to you if he or she decides that you are voluntarily unemployed or underemployed. This may happen when you do not have a job and cannot demonstrate that you have either been seeking a job or have circumstances that prevent you from working — a disability, a needful dependent, educational obligations or a similar explanation that convinces a court you cannot work.

Similarly, a judge may decide that you are a voluntarily underemployed parent if you choose not to work full time without a reasonable explanation.

How would a court impute income?

Courts may impute income based on the national median income for your gender and age, or they may impute income by prorating your part-time earnings to a full-time schedule. If you recently experienced a pay cut or loss of income, and the court believes that you are attempting to defraud the court for a lower support obligation, a judge may also impute income based on your previous pay rate. Courts may consider other relevant factors when deciding to attribute unearned income to you.