You may be paying too much in California child support or California spousal support if you did not get a seek-work order from the court.
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Imputing Income is done when a spouse who is receiving supports payments refuses to seek employment or is underemployed. If a court determines that a parent is unemployed, underemployed or earning less than what they were previously earning to avoid child support payments, the court can impute a certain amount of additional income to that parent.
Child Support Obligation
In California, both parents are legally responsible for the financial support of their children. Imputing income is done to limit the burden that one parent may have in providing support for a child by requiring both parents to provide for their children. Imputing income can be done even if the parents were not married. Parents’ incomes are a key factor in figuring out how much support is owed. Unfortunately, some parents intentionally reduce their income in order to avoid their duty of support – they may do this by cutting back work hours or refusing to work altogether.
Spousal and Child Support Obligation
For earnings to be imputed, the supporting spouse has the burden to prove that the non-working spouse has both the ability to work and that there is opportunity for employment. This burden of proof does not require proof that a non-working spouse can actually get a given job but only that they have the ability to be employed and that there are opportunities for work.
Factors Considered for Imputing Income
California Family Law courts originally adopted what was known as the “Regnery Rule” which established standards used to impute income to a spouse who is not working or refused to work. This three-part test required proof that the non-working spouse:
- Has the ability to work;
- Have the willingness to work; and,
- Has the opportunity to obtain work or that an employer is willing to hire the non-working spouse. However, this rule was later reduced to two factors because the courts came to realize that the “willingness to work” should be taken for granted. Currently, to impute income, the rule now only requires proof of the non-working spouse’s ability to work and that there is an opportunity to work.
California courts require that the spouse seeking a modification prove that income should be imputed by supplying sufficient evidence that the non-working spouse has the ability to work and that there are employment opportunities. This is often done by an expert who conducts a vocational evaluation. The expert opinion of a vocational expert can prove:
- That the non-working spouse is not making a reasonable good faith effort to become self-supporting or more specifically, that because of their mere desires, they are not seeking employment in the field(s) in which they are qualified to work.
- That the non-working spouse could return to former employment.
- That there are opportunities for work in related fields.
- Opportunities can be found in relevant want ads.
- Opportunities exist with competing pay scales.
Rational for Imputing Income
Income is imputed because the courts take into consideration the effects the lack of sufficient income has on the children’s lifestyle when only one spouse is working; with one parent working, children are often not allowed to live according to the marital standard of living. In other words, should the non-working spouse become employed, it would increase their standard of living and the children, and therefore the best interest of the children would be served. In short, California courts have indicated that both parents are equally responsible for the support of their children and each parent should pay for the support of the children according to his or her ability. This has been further emphasized by case law which states that when a parent chooses not to seek employment to the best of his or her ability, the court can impute income so that the entire burden for supporting children does not fall only on one parent.
California courts have also noted that a supported spouse cannot make “unwise decisions, which have the effect of preventing him or her from becoming self-supporting and expect the supporting spouse to pick up the tab.” Courts have stressed that a non-working spouse is expected to find financial success in their careers and that by not working, spousal support can be reduced.
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