Imputing Income for Child Support in the District of Columbia

A look at the process of imputing income for child support in the District of Columbia.

While a job loss may make it harder for a parent to pay child support, a parent’s responsibility to financially support their child does not disappear automatically, even if their paycheck has. Some job losses are outside a parent’s control, but other times a parent may quit a well-paying job as a way to avoid child support. Such attempts to shirk parental responsibilities may backfire.

Regardless of whether or not a parent is actively involved in their child’s life, the duty to financially support your child continues. Courts are prepared to deal with these types of situations and can impute income to parents trying to avoid child support.

This article provides a general overview of how and under what circumstances courts will impute income for child support purposes in the District of Columbia. If after reading this article, you still have questions about imputing income, you should contact a local family law attorney for advice.

Child Support Orders

The District of Columbia maintains child support guidelines, which calculate a total child support figure based upon the gross monthly incomes of the parents. Each parent is assigned a percentage of total amount of child support to pay based upon their income and the number of children they have with the other parent. For purposes of calculating child support, a parent’s gross monthly income includes their salary, overtime, tips, commissions, severance pay, royalties, bonuses, dividends, social security and capital gains. To learn more, see Child Support in DC. In situations where one parent is earning less than they should or could be earning without a valid reason, a court can increase the amount of child support under the District of Columbia guidelines by imputing income to that parent.

What is Imputed Income?

When a court imputes income, it assigns a higher salary to a parent than what the parent actually earns. For child support purposes, courts may impute income in situations where a parent is capable of earning more, but simply elects not to - whether due to voluntary unemployment or underemployment.

Voluntary Unemployment

A voluntary unemployment situation is one where a parent is able to work but simply chooses not to. Voluntary unemployment situations include when a parent quits a job, is laid off and refuses to seek new employment, or intentionally gets terminated.

Underemployment

A parent is underemployed when they make any choice or take any action that negatively affects their income. In considering whether a parent is voluntarily underemployed, a court will assess whether a combination of the parent’s experience, abilities and training could produce an increased income. A court will likely consider the following factors when imputing income to an underemployed parent:

  • the parent’s prior employment
  • the parent’s s education and training
  • the parent’s assets
  • the parent’s health, and
  • the parent’s role as a caretaker of another child or incapacitated adult.

How Do Courts Decide how Much Income to Impute?

Once a court has determined that a parent is purposefully avoiding their child support obligations through an unemployment or underemployment situation, the court will decide how much income to impute by reviewing the parent’s previous earnings. The parent’s entire financial picture will be reviewed including prior tax returns, paystubs, W-2s and any other relevant financial information.

If the unemployed or underemployed parent does not provide income information or none is available for the parent, a court may impute income based upon a full-time (40 hours per week) minimum wage job to the voluntarily unemployed or underemployed parent. An increased amount of child support may even be ordered retroactively in some situations.

Still, even after income has been imputed, either parent may file documents with the court or with the Child Support Services Division to decrease or increase the amount imputed to a parent based on clear evidence that a mistake was made in the calculations or income or assets were double-counted.

Resources

The District of Columbia maintains a website to help parents who want to file a child support modification action on their own at www.dccourts.gov. If you have other questions about imputing income for purposes of child support in the District of Columbia, contact an experienced family law attorney for assistance.

For more information on the factors considered in child support modification actions in the District of Columbia see District of Columbia Official Code, Title 46, Chapter 204(a).

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