Imputing Income for Child Support in Alabama

Find out why and how courts in Alabama will impute income for child support purposes.

Parents, whether married or not, have a continuing duty to support their children. Unfortunately, when faced with the possibility of a child support order, some parents try to avoid paying child support by intentionally quitting their job, refusing to work, or by refusing to work at the level they are capable of (being underemployed).

These parents may be bitter about a break up, or angry at the child’s other parent, and believe that lowering a child support order will punish the other parent. However, they are actually punishing their children, who may not receive support sufficient to cover their basic needs.

This article will explore situations where a parent acts irresponsibly regarding work and child support, and explain when the court will attribute or “impute” income to a parent. If you still have questions after reading this article, you should contact an experienced family law attorney for help.

Overview of Child Support Order

Parents in Alabama can agree on the amount of child support to be paid by the supporting parent. However, if parents are unable to agree, then a judge will decide. A child support case can be brought to court by a parent or by a local or state agency on behalf of the child or children (usually called the Office of Child Support Services or Department of Child Support Services for the particular state).

In determining the amount of child support, Alabama courts follow the “Income Shares Model.” This model estimates the total amount that an intact, two-parent family would likely spend on the children, and then allots the amount between the parents according to their incomes. The parent with greater income is responsible for a greater percentage of support. The basic support amounts and the rules for dividing amounts between parents are set out in the Alabama Child Support Guidelines.

When a parent claims a problem with employment that interferes with his or her ability to pay child support, the court will look at the particular facts of the situation. If there is evidence to show a legitimate inability to pay, then the court may adjust the amount of child support accordingly. However, if the evidence shows that a parent is trying to get out of paying child support by not working enough, or at all, then the court will impute income to that parent.

For more information about child support in Alabama, click here.

Differences Between Involuntary Unemployment, Voluntary Unemployment and Underemployment

Involuntary Unemployment

Involuntary unemployment happens when a parent loses a job for a legitimate reason and is unable to find another job despite reasonable efforts. When this happens, the unemployed parent will be required to show the court the job loss was actually involuntary. The parent must also be prepared to show evidence of diligent efforts to find another job. A parent that is unable to work due to physical or mental issues will also be considered involuntarily unemployed.

If a judge finds that a parent is truly involuntarily unemployed, the court will not impute income to that parent.

Voluntary Unemployment

Voluntary unemployment is when a parent is able to work and has an opportunity to work, but chooses not to work. Some examples of voluntary unemployment include:

  • losing a job due to misconduct or illegal activity
  • voluntary early retirement
  • quitting work to return to school
  • voluntary termination, and
  • serving time in jail or prison.

Voluntary Underemployment

Voluntary underemployment happens when a parent makes less than diligent efforts to find employment at a level equal to or better than income formerly received. The court will look at recent work history and employment qualifications to decide if a parent is working below full capacity. Some examples of voluntary underemployment include:

  • quitting a higher paying job to take a lower paying one (for example, going from a high-paid corporate lawyer to a preschool teacher or a Peace Corps volunteer)
  • voluntarily cutting back on work hours, and
  • refusing to reasonably use or invest his or her assets.

What is Imputed Income?

Imputed income is income the court credits a parent as earning, even when they are not actually earning it. It may also be called “attributed income.” Alabama courts will impute income for child support purposes if a parent’s current situation and earnings show a voluntary and unreasonable decision to earn less than the parent is capable of earning.

The court may also impute income when the court finds a parent’s account of his or her finances is not credible or believable. The court will look at the facts of each case and make a decision to impute income based on those unique facts.

For example, when a parent quits a job or cuts back on hours for the purpose of reducing his or her child support payment, the court will impute some additional income to the parent, despite the fact that the parent is earning less. In other words, the court will treat the parent as though he or she is earning a certain amount of money, even though the parent is not (or says he or she is not).

The court will estimate what the parent’s income would actually be based on employment potential and probable earning level of that parent. The court will also look at that parent’s recent work history, education, occupational qualifications and the prevailing job opportunities and earning levels in the community.

A court will not impute income when a parent is physically or mentally incapacitated or if a parent has been a homemaker or primary caretaker of children during the marriage and has had no opportunity to work. The court may also take into account custody of a young or physically or mentally disabled child requiring the parent to stay in the home.

The parent claiming that the other parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed bears burden of proof – meaning it’s his or her job to show the court sufficient evidence of the other parent’s voluntary unemployment or underemployment.

Resources

Ala. Admin. Code, Rule 32 (Alabama Child Support Guidelines)

Suggs v. Suggs, 54 So. 3d 921 (Ala. Civ. App. 2010) (court may find that a father serving life in prison is voluntarily unemployed)

For more information on Alabama family law topics, click here.

Legal Services of Alabama - Alabama Legal Help, Child Support.

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