Most divorced parents have no problem with the continuing duty to support their children. However, some parents who are ordered to pay child support attempt to lower their payments by deliberately reducing their income. This ploy usually doesn’t work because family law judges are well aware of this behavior and have well-established means of addressing it.
This article will examine how Maine courts “impute income” or add income back in to calculate child support. If your situation seems complicated, contact an experienced family law attorney licensed to practice in Maine.
Maine state law provides a formula to set child support using both parents’ incomes. The state statute lists out what money sources count as income. These figures are used to calculate the amount of child support by comparing the parents’ income and proportioning the child support accordingly. For more information on child support in Maine seeChild Support Laws in Maine
There are instances when a parent who has been ordered to pay child support to the other parent intentionally reduces or eliminates income. Regardless of the reason, if the paying parent’s loss or reduction in income is deliberate, Maine courts will consider that reduction to be voluntary. In those cases, the court will base the paying parent’s child support obligation on what the paying parent should be earning, not what he or she is actually earning.
Some examples of voluntary unemployment are very clear cut as with a paying parent that quits a stable job, refuses to look for alternative employment, and then shows up at a child support hearing claiming that he or she has no income to pay for child support.
But other cases may require additional investigation. Take the circumstance where the paying parent loses a job due to misconduct. The court considers the job loss to be voluntary because the loss was due to the paying parent’s voluntary actions. The court will not grant the paying parent a reduction in child support.
For example, the employee-paying parent repeatedly violates company safety rules despite numerous warnings. Regardless of whether the job loss is called a layoff or a firing, the receiving parent may be able to establish that the paying parent’s bad conduct caused the loss. Therefore, the loss will be considered voluntary because the paying parent acted contrary to the company rules.
Sometimes a paying parent quits a job or shifts careers and takes a position that pays considerably less than what he or she earned in the past. If that paying parent then files for a reduction in his or her support obligation, the receiving parent (the one that receives child support) may successfully fight that request.
For example, the unemployed computer technician now works in a fast food restaurant and may requests a reduction in child support. If the receiving parent can prove that the paying parent could have obtained a higher earning computer job in the community, the court may not order a reduction in child support.
When a court imputes income, it attributes income to the paying parent that that paying parent is not actually earning. The result is that the paying parent’s obligation is considerably higher that it would be if it had been based on the paying parent’s actual income.
As shown in the above examples, the law does not want to encourage paying parents who are trying to minimize or shirk their full child support obligations. And a judge's primary consideration when dealing with issues affecting children in divorce, including child support, is what is in the best interests of the child. So paying parents must understand that a court's main concern will always be with the child and whether he or she is receiving a fair amount of financial support.
In order to impute income, a judge will consider the following factors with regard to the paying parent:
After considering these factors, the court will determine the paying parent’s “earning capacity” - what the paying parent should be earning in his or her field. The judge’s goal is to set a specific dollar amount of imputed income. For example, if the paying parent has always had minimum wage jobs, the judge could attribute the paying parent with income based on a full-time job that pays the state’s hourly minimum wage.
For salaried professionals, the judge could impute income based on the paying parent’s past earnings as reported on federal or state income tax returns.
There are cases when Maine courts will not impute income even when the paying parent’s behavior has caused a loss of income. For example, if the paying parent is incarcerated, the court will base child support only on the employment available to the paying parent in the jail.
Maine courts will not impute income when the paying parent purposely quit a job to care for a child under the age of three. If the paying parent is caring for a child between the ages of three and twelve, the court will consider the cost of day care for the paying parent in determining how much income to impute onto the paying parent.
The state law that governs child support is in the Maine Revised Statutes at 19-A MRS section 2005.