Throughout the United States, courts seek to enforce the principle that parents have an obligation to financially support their children. Although most parents have no problem doing so, some who do not see their kids may feel they shouldn't have to support them. If forced to pay child support, these parents may think that if they quit their jobs or hide income, they can minimize or avoid their support obligations.
The law has special procedures and remedies in place for these situations, including the imputation of income for child support. This article will discuss how the Michigan courts deal with parents who try to outwit the law on child support.
Establishing Child Support
Michigan uses a formula to establish child support. This means that the parents’ income is plugged into a calculation to determine how much child support should be paid from one parent (the paying parent) to the other (the receiving parent).
The law provides a list of what counts as income, such as wages, overtime pay, commissions, bonuses, and earnings from a business or self-employment. For more information on child support in Michigan go to The Overview of Child Support in Michigan
Under certain circumstances, a court may "impute income" to a paying parent. This means a judge may attribute higher or additional income to the paying parent than what he or she is actually earning.
When a paying parent has lost his or her income due to a lay off or other unanticipated circumstance, the paying parent may be entitled to a reduction in the child support obligation. However if the court finds that the paying parent has lost income without a good faith reason, such as a parent who voluntarily quits a stable job or gets fired due to an intentional violation of his or her employer's rules, the receiving parent may ask the court to impute income and establish child support based on what the paying parent should be earning.
It’s not just loss of income that can trigger the court to impute income. If the paying parent has taken a lower paying job or is otherwise earning less than he or she has in the past, the court can impute income by adding back into the paying parent’s income the money the paying parent should be earning with a higher paying job. For example, if a nurse quits his or her hospital job to take a job as a daycare worker, the nurse may still end up paying child support based on the hospital salary.
When is it Appropriate to Impute Income?
Oftentimes, a paying parent will claim that the job loss is due to personal issues with the boss. While the paying parent may have been laid off involuntarily, the real reason may be that the paying parent broke company rules, which caused him or her to be terminated.
Whether the loss of employment is called a firing or a lay-off should have no bearing on the real reason the paying parent lost his or her job. For example, there may be safety rules that the employee-paying parent continually fails to follow, despite repeated warnings from the boss. The employer may call the termination a lay-off to allow the paying parent to collect unemployment. In any case, the paying parent may request a reduction in child support.
It’s up to the receiving parent to show to the judge that the paying parent caused the job loss and is if that is the case, the paying parent will not be entitled to a reduction. The paying parent’s loss of income is considered to be voluntary because his or her behavior caused the loss of income. In this case, the court can impute income and base the child support calculation on the paying parent's earning capacity.
Proving Earning Capacity
It is the receiving parent’s job to prove that income should be imputed to the paying parent. The court considers the paying parent’s actual ability to earn income and the reasonable likelihood of earning such income. For instance, if the paying parent is a union carpenter usually earning $30 an hour, but there are no union jobs available, the court might decline to impute income.
The court will also consider the following factors when deciding whether and how much income to impute:
- work history, including history of being fired or laid off
- work experience
- educational level, skills or training
- availability for work
- local wages for similar work
- job availability in the area
- the paying parent’s persistence in looking for work, and
- whether the paying parent is responsible for parties’ children, which may limit his or her ability to work.
The Michigan statute that governs child support is Michigan Statutes 552.451.