Every child in Arkansas has the legal right to be financially supported by his or her parents - this applies whether the parents were married to one another or not. A parent’s income is a key factor in deciding how much support is owed. Unfortunately, some parents try to lower the amount of child support owed or avoid paying altogether by artificially lowering their income. They may do this by intentionally quitting a job, or refusing to work at the level they are capable of (being “underemployed”). These parents may believe they're simply gaming the system or punishing the other parent by paying less. However, it's the child who suffers when he or she is not properly supported.
This article will explore situations where a parent acts irresponsibly regarding work and child support and will explain when and how a 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 Arkansas, parents owe child support to children under age 18 (or to children who are still in high school). Parents can agree on the amount of child support. However, if the parents are unable to agree, a parent or the Arkansas Office of Child Support Enforcement can ask a judge to decide the case on behalf of the child.
Arkansas calculates basic support as a percentage of a noncustodial parent’s net income after certain allowable deductions. Courts interpret income broadly to cover the widest range of resources available to benefit children. To assist the court in calculating support, both parents are required to submit an Affidavit of Financial Means.
Arkansas Administrative Order No. 10 provides specific guidelines on setting the amount of child support. The court may grant more or less support than the guidelines propose if the evidence supports a different amount. Under Administrative Order No. 10, income includes any form of payment, regardless of source. Some examples include wages, commissions, self-employment earnings, pensions, disability payments, and investment income.
For more information on child support in Arkansas, 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. 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.
If a parent is unemployed or working below full earning capacity, the court may consider the reasons why the person is unemployed or underemployed. If earnings are reduced as a matter of choice and not for a reasonable cause, the court may attribute income to a parent up to his or her earning capacity, including consideration of the parent’s lifestyle and spending habits. Income of at least minimum wage will be attributed to a parent ordered to pay child support.
Parents need to be aware that they do not have total discretion in making financial decisions if the child’s welfare will suffer due to their decisions. For example, deciding to quit your job and open your own business may be questioned if it interferes with your ability to provide child support.
There are situations when lowering income is justifiable. The court must look at the facts and circumstances in each case to determine if income should be attributed or not.
Grady v. Grady, 295 Ark. 94 (1988) - courts will look at unique facts and circumstances of each case in deciding whether to impute income
Irvin v. Irvin, 47 Ark. App. 48 (1994) - court may impute income to unemployed parent if facts justify