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What is imputed income?

Part of your responsibility as a parent is to provide financially for your child. Courts in Washington take this responsibility very seriously when it comes to ordering child support, taking many different factors into consideration to determine how much each parent should pay. The amount of money that you and your ex make is only one factor. According to FindLaw, if your spouse takes steps to artificially lower the amount of his or income in an attempt to pay less in child support, the court may award you child support based on the amount that your ex has the capacity to earn rather than his or her actual income. The term for your ex's earning capacity is imputed income.

Your ex-spouse may be unemployed or underemployed due to circumstances beyond his or her control. On the other hand, some people have attempted to willfully get out of paying full child support amounts by taking steps to reduce income, such as quitting a job and refusing to look for a new one, reducing the number of hours worked or taking a less lucrative position. The court takes a dim view of these purposeful attempts to earn less than one's capacity and may impute income in cases such as this.

However, if the court determines that the condition of unemployment/underemployment is involuntary, it will not impute income to your ex. Three factors come into play when the court determines whether the condition is voluntary or involuntary:

  • Willingness to work
  • Opportunity
  • Ability

To determine willingness to work, the court looks at your ex's history of searching for work, submitting applications and attending job interviews. Opportunity refers to the availability of positions in your ex's field. Ability pertains to your ex's employment history, work skills and educational level. 

Because every situation is different, the court always decides imputation of income on a case-by-case basis. There are also exceptions in which the court does not impute income even in cases of unemployment or underemployment. For example, the court may not impute your ex's income if he or she is taking classes at an institution of higher learning or making a good-faith effort to find a better job. 

The information in this article is not intended as legal advice but provided for educational purposes only. 

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