Imputing Income for Child Support in Iowa

Learn more about the process of imputing income in Iowa and its effect on child support.

After a breakup or divorce, both parents have a continuing, legal obligation to financially support their children. Quitting one’s job or hiding income is not the answer to reducing child support. Attempts to shirk the financial responsibility to provide child support can ultimately backfire, and courts can impute income to deal with these types of situations.

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

Calculating Child Support

Iowa has state guidelines for calculating child support that should be followed unless the resulting child support award would be unjust or inappropriate. Thus, the amount of child support ordered in a case is dependent upon Iowa’s child support guidelines and the reported income of the parents. See  Child Support in Iowa  to learn more about how child support is calculated. In situations where a parent misreports their income or is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed without a medical reason, a court can increase child support by imputing income to that parent.

The  Iowa Court System  maintains a comprehensive website, which includes self-help forms and more information to assist parents who want to file a child support modification action on their own.

When Can Courts Impute Income?

A court may impute, or assign, additional income to a parent when it determines that the parent is capable of earning more than their current salary. When imputing income, a court will calculate child support based upon a parent’s earning capacity rather than actual earnings  if  the judge finds that a parent is choosing to earn less by being voluntarily underemployed or unemployed without just cause.


An underemployment situation exists when a parent could hold a higher-paying job, but is working at a job well below their abilities or education level. Likewise, a parent is underemployed when they previously earned more or they could be earning more, but he or she simply chooses not to.

The following situations are examples of underemployment that could justify the imputation of income:

  • the parent rejected a promotion
  • the parent historically earned more
  • the parent is working less than full-time (40 hours per week) without a medical or other reason, and
  • the parent delayed receiving a bonus or commission.

Voluntary Unemployment

A voluntary unemployment situation occurs when a parent is able to physically work but instead chooses not to. Voluntary unemployment situations include those where a parent quits their job, intentionally gets terminated, or is laid off and refuses or fails to make any real efforts to find a new job.

How Do Courts Decide How Much Income to Impute?

If a court determines that one parent is intentionally avoiding child support obligations through voluntary unemployment or underemployment, a court will review the parent’s employment history, among other factors, in order to determine the appropriate amount of income to impute to that parent.

A court cannot impute income to a parent at a higher salary level than what the parent previously earned. Nevertheless, in deciding how much income to impute, courts may review the following:

  • the parent’s previous earnings history
  • the parents pay stubs and tax returns for the last 5 years, and
  • Department of Labor Statistics for earnings in the same field and community.

If the unemployed or underemployed parent does not provide income information or no income information is available for the parent, a court may impute income based upon a full-time (40 hours per week) minimum wage job.


If you have other questions about imputing income for purposes of child support in Iowa, contact an experienced family law attorney for assistance.

For more information on the factors considered in child support modification actions in Iowa see Iowa Code Chapter 598, Section 21c.  

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