In Alaska, parents, whether married to one another or not, owe a duty of support to their children - this is not just an ethical duty, but it is also a legal duty. A parent’s income is a key component of figuring out how much child support a parent must pay. Unfortunately, some parents try to lower their amount of child support or avoid paying support altogether by intentionally lowering their income. They may do this by quitting their job or refusing to work at the level they are capable of (being “underemployed”). These parents may believe they are avoiding the system, or that they will punish the other parent by paying less. However, it's the child who suffers when he or she receives insufficient support.
This article will explore the situations when a parent acts irresponsibly regarding work and child support and explain why or how 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.
In Alaska, parents may agree on a plan for child support. As long as the plan meets the Alaska guidelines, the court will approve the plan and no further legal action is required.
However, if the parents are unable to agree on the amount, then a judge will hear the case and decide on the proper amount. A case may be brought to court by a parent, or by the Alaska Child Support Services division on behalf of the child (or children).
The amount of child support is calculated using Civil Court Rule 90.3. The calculation will be different depending on the parents’ child custody arrangement. When one parent has primary custody, the court will look at the “non-custodial” parent’s income and make a calculation. When the custody arrangement is shared or divided, the court will typically look at both parents’ incomes and make a different calculation.
When a parent claims to have 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 avoid child support by not working enough, or at all, then the court will impute income to that parent regardless.
For the Alaska Child Support Services Division FAQ, click here.
For the Alaska Child Support Services Division web-based child support calculator, click here.
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 and inability to find a job.
A parent will also be considered involuntarily unemployed when he or she has evidence of being unable to work due to physical or mental issues. A supporting parent will also be involuntarily unemployed if he or she is caring for a child under age two, and both parents owe a joint legal responsibility to that child.
If a judge finds that a parent is truly involuntarily unemployed, the court will not impute income to the parent.
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:
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 voluntarily cutting back on work hours, and refusing to reasonably use or invest his or her assets.
A parent making a career change to a lower-paying job may also be found to be voluntarily underemployed. In the case of a career change, the court will consider the extent to which the children will ultimately benefit from the career change to determine if the parent is voluntarily underemployed.
Imputed income is income the a court credits a parent as earning, even when the parent is not actually earning it. When a court is establishing or reviewing a child support order, the judge will look at the supporting parent’s income, and also look at the custodial parent’s income in some cases. When the supporting parent is employed, the court will look for total income from all sources, including:
However, when the court finds that a parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, the court will calculate the parent’s “potential income.” This will be based on the parent’s past income, skills, work history, education, and job opportunities in the area where the parent lives.
After reviewing these factors and calculating an amount of potential income, the court will impute that amount to the supporting parent even though the parent is not actually earning it (or says he or she is not). The court may also impute potential income for non-income or low income producing assets.