In Connecticut, both parents are legally responsible for the financial support of their children, whether they're married to one another or not. Parents’ incomes are a key factor in figuring out how much support is owed. Unfortunately, some parents intentionally reduce their income in order to avoid their duty of support - they may do this by cutting back work hours or refusing to work altogether.
Parents who reduce income to lower child support payments may believe they're punishing the other parent or avoiding the system. However, in reality, these parents are actually punishing their own children as their kids’ financial needs go unmet.
This article will explain why and how courts will attribute or “impute” income to parents that are trying to avoid child support. If you still have questions after reading this article, you should contact an experienced family law attorney for advice.
In Connecticut, the child support obligation normally continues until a child who has finished high school turns 18, or until a full-time high school student turns 19. However, a court may also order a parent to pay support for a child between the ages of 18 and 23 if the child is a full-time student in a college or a similar type of educational program.
Parents may agree on the amount of child support. However, to make their agreement enforceable, they must get the court’s approval of the agreement. If parents can’t agree, either parent may bring a child support case to court. The Connecticut Child Support Enforcement Services may also bring a case on behalf of a child.
Connecticut uses the Income Shares Model to determine the amount child support. This model uses each parent’s income, along with the Connecticut child support guidelines, to determine the monthly amount of support. To learn more, read Child Support in Connecticut. The idea behind the guidelines calculation is that the parents should bear any additional expenses resulting from maintaining two separate households since it is not the child’s fault that the parents live separately.
When a parent is found to be trying to deny or limit the child support amount by being voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, the court will impute income to that parent.
A parent is involuntarily unemployed when he or she is unable to work due to physical or mental incapacity. In some cases, child care responsibilities may also mean a parent is involuntarily unemployed. A parent will also be involuntarily unemployed if he or she loses a job and is unable to find another job after making good faith efforts to find another one. The parent must be prepared to show evidence of diligent efforts to find another job.
Voluntary unemployment is when evidence shows a parent is able to work, but chooses not to work without good cause. Simply losing a job will not automatically mean the parent is voluntarily unemployed, even if the parent was fired due to misconduct on the job. However, if the parent does not make efforts to get another job, then the court will find voluntary unemployment. For example, a parent who voluntarily leaves a job held for several years and makes no effort to get another job will be voluntarily unemployed.
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. It may also include when a parent claims less income than he or she actually receives. The court will look at recent work history and employment qualifications to decide if a parent is working below full capacity. Some examples include:
If a court finds that a parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed in order to reduce child support, the court has the option to impute income to that parent. When courts impute income, they attribute or credit more income to a parent than what he or she is actually earning.
The amount of additional, imputed income is based on a finding of the parent’s potential income. The court will look at the unique facts of each child support case to determine imputed income. The court will consider the age, health, station, occupation, earning capacity, amount and sources of income, estate, vocational skills and employability of each of the parents. Some of the evidence the court will consider includes the parent’s lifestyle and personal expenses. Each parent must be prepared to present all evidence available to ensure the court can make the best, informed decision.
There is no fixed standard in determining the amount of income to impute to a parent. The amount is based on the income a parent may be reasonably expected to earn considering his or her work skills, employability, age and health. However, a parent’s earning capacity does not represent an absolute cap in imputed income. When a parent has extensive assets, those assets will also be considered in determining the amount to impute.
The actual amount awarded will not be based on speculation and guesses. The court must have specific evidence of earning capacity, such as evidence of past salary or typical salary of person with the defendant’s ability and experience.
Connecticut General Statutes Chapter 816 - Child Support