Imputing Income for Child Support in Utah

Learn why and how courts will impute income for child support in Utah.

When parents are married or living together, they usually make joint decisions about how to financially support their children. But when parents divorce or break up, they may need some help sorting this out and may even end up in court, where a judge will determine who pays child support and in what amount. Typically, the parent with less custodial time (the paying parent) will pay child support to the parent with more custodial time (the custodial parent).

Most paying parents will continue to work hard to provide income for their children, but a small percentage will purposely quit their jobs or take lower paying jobs to try and minimize their child support payments.

Most states have now passed laws to prevent a parent from purposely earning below his or her potential to avoid paying child support. Under these laws, courts use a process called “imputing income,” which is when a court uses a parent’s potential income to calculate child support rather than a parent’s actual income.

This article explains the basics of child support and how courts impute income in Utah. If you have additional questions about imputed income in Utah after reading this article, you should talk to a Utah family law attorney.

Overview of Child Support in Utah

In Utah, the noncustodial parent typically pays monthly child support to the custodial parent. Utah courts calculate child support using a Child Support Calculator. To read more specifics regarding Utah child support calculation, read Child Support Laws in Utah. The calculator uses both parents' gross incomes, the number of children, and the number of days each parent has custody of the children to come up with a prospective amount of child support the noncustodial parent should pay.

In many cases, the noncustodial parent will pay the prospective amount of child support, but if there are reasons that amount would not be fair, the court can adjust child support up or down to reach a fair final amount. If the court believes that there are sufficient reasons to order a child support amount other than the prospective child support amount, the court can consider the following factors:

  • the standard of living of the parents
  • the relative income and wealth of the parents
  • the ability of the noncustodial parent to pay child support
  • the earning ability of the noncustodial parent
  • needs of each parent and the children
  • ages of the parents, and
  • child support paid by either parent for other children.

If either parent’s income changes significantly, the court can modify (change) the child support award. Both parents will have an opportunity to tell the court what they believe is a fair before the court changes the amount.

What is Imputed Income?

When the court believes it would be unfair to use a parent’s actual reported income in child support calculations the court can instead use a parent’s potential income to calculate child support; this is called imputing income. When a parent fails or refuses to provide evidence of his or her actual income, the court still must impute an amount of income to that parent to use in the child support calculator. Courts also impute income when it believes the proof of income a parent provides is not reliable, for example, when there is evidence that a parent earns much more or has other sources of income that were not revealed. Courts may also impute income to parents who are voluntarily unemployed or underemployed.

The Important Difference Between Involuntary and Voluntary Unemployment

Utah courts distinguish between a parent who is voluntarily unemployed, like a parent who quit his job to lower child support, and a parent who is legitimately unable to work or earn more money. In Utah, the court won’t impute income to a parent who is involuntarily unemployed. A parent is involuntarily unemployed when any of the following factors are met:

  • the cost of childcare is equal or more than the parent could earn
  • a parent is physically or mentally unable to earn minimum wage
  • a parent is currently in job training or other education intended to lead to a job, or
  • a parent must take care of a disabled child and can’t work.

In any of the above scenarios, the court will use the parent’s actual income in the child support calculations.

When a parent is voluntarily unemployed, however, the court will impute income to that parent for child support purposes. For example, if a father voluntarily quits his job and then asks the court to lower his child support payment, the court is likely to impute income to the father in the amount he was earning before he left his job. Utah courts can also consider income from a second job that a parent quits without good reason, or income normally earned from overtime wages that a parent claims to no longer earn.

A parent doesn’t have to quit his or her job specifically for the purpose of lowering child support for the court to impute income to that parent. In Utah, courts have the power to impute income to a parent when that parent takes any voluntary action to reduce his or her income.

How Does Utah Calculate Imputed Income?

Utah imputes income by figuring out what jobs a parent is qualified to hold, and how much that parent could earn from working in such a job to his or her potential. At a minimum, Utah courts will assume that a parent can earn at least minimum wage, currently $7.25, for 40 hours per week. The court can consider several other factors to determine if a parent’s potential income is higher than minimum wage:

  • the parent’s work history
  • the parent’s job qualifications
  • typical earnings for people with similar backgrounds in the area, and
  • average earnings for people with the same job in the same geographical area as decided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

If a parent has no job history, the court will likely use the federal minimum wage as imputed income. If a parent has a job history, the court will impute income based on that history.

Utah courts have the authority to order that child support payments increase automatically if the court determines that a parent’s income has temporarily decreased and is expected to rise in the future. For example, if a wife quits her job to go back to school or start her own business, the court can order that her child support payments change when she is expected to begin earning income again.

Utah courts will base child support on any income that is typical for a parent to earn. If a parent normally works a second job, or overtime, or usually receives rental income, the court can use those amounts in imputing income if a parent stops earning that income voluntarily. Once the court determines a final amount of imputed income, it uses that figure in the child support calculator just as if it were the parent’s actual income.

Resources

If you have additional questions about imputed income in Utah, contact a Utah family law attorney.

To read the full text of the law on child support and imputed income in Utah read

Utah Code Annotated Title 78B, Chapter 12, Section 203.

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