Child Support and Imputation of Income
What happens to child support when one parent switches careers or quits their job?
Guideline Child Support
Every parent has a duty to support their children, whether or not they are employed. When parents divorce or separate, one or both may petition the court for child support. The court will order both parents to provide income information, including paystubs and tax returns, in order to calculate the presumptive amount of child support. The guidelines can be found in 20-108.2 of the Code of Virginia. The guidelines will apply unless they are somehow unfair or inappropriate. If a parent chooses a lower-paying job or quits working altogether, he or she should not be allowed to avoid their obligation to pay child support. One solution is to impute income to a parent that chooses not to work or switches to a lower-paying profession.
Imputation of Income
Virginia courts have consistently held that a parent cannot avoid or reduce their child support obligation merely by switching careers or quitting their job. Under 20-108.1(B)(3) income may be imputed to a parent who is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed. The court will look at the parent’s earning capacity, training, and prior earning history in determining whether to impute income.
A parent cannot voluntarily pursue low-paying employment to the detriment of support obligations to a child. Niemiec vs. Commonwealth, 27 Va. App. 446. In order to show voluntary conduct, the court will consider the parent’s reasons for leaving a position, their earning capacity, education level, and work history. The court held in Antonelli vs. Antonelli, 242 Va. 152 (1991) that the risk of success at a father’s new position “was upon the father, and not upon the children.” In that case the father left a salaried position as a stockbroker for a commissioned position in the same field. When his income was drastically reduced, he requested modification of his support obligation. The court held that his conduct in choosing a different job was made in good faith for legitimate business reasons, however, it was still voluntary and his child support would not be reduced.
Other Grounds for Adjustment
The court can also adjust the presumptive amount of child support if any of the following circumstances apply:
1) a parent provides support to other family members,
2) costs related to visitation with the children, including travel expenses,
3) debts incurred for the child’s benefit,
4) special needs of the child,
5) standard of living established during the marriage,
6) earning ability and needs of each parent,
7) tax consequences,
8) any other factors that impact the fairness of the child support award,
Anytime there is a material change in circumstnaces, the court may revisit and adjust child support accordingly.
If you believe you have special circumstances affecting your child support case, you should contact an attorney to discuss your options.