Imputing Income for Child Support in Maryland

Find out why and how courts in Maryland will impute income for child support purposes.

While paying child support is not an issue for many parents, there are times when animosity between the parents manifests itself in a failure (or deliberate refusal) to pay court-ordered child support. Too often, paying parents try to undermine child support orders by lowering their income or earnings.

A parent who acts this way may thinks the other parent is being punished. In fact, this behavior usually impacts the children by denying them a lifestyle that the parents should be providing. This article looks at how the Maryland courts deal with these parents by imputing income for child support. If you have a unique situation or questions, consult with an experienced Maryland family law attorney.

Establishing Child Support in Maryland

Maryland courts use a formula to establish child support. Both parents’ incomes are plugged into a calculation to determine how much child support should be paid from one parent (the paying parent) to the other (the receiving parent). The law provides a list of what counts as income, such as wages, overtime pay, commissions, bonuses, earnings from a business or self-employment, and the like. For more information on child support in Maryland, see the article at Child Support Basics in Maryland (Nolo)

Voluntary Versus Involuntary Unemployment or Underemployment

It’s not uncommon to lose a job nowadays and especially in some parts of the country. When there is a legitimate loss of employment, a Maryland court will grant the paying parent a reduction in child support.

Problems arise when there are questions around the reason for the job loss.

Voluntary Unemployment or Underemployment

When it’s obvious that the paying parent has quit a job to avoid a child support order, the court will not give him or her child support reduction. In such cases, Maryland law describes the paying parent as being “voluntarily impoverished” and will base child support on what the paying parent was earning perviously, even if he or she no longer has the job.

The situation can get more complicated if the paying parent is working but at a lower-paying job than he or she had in the past (underemployment). If the receiving parent can prove this reduction in income is a deliberate attempt to minimize a child support order, the court will base the order on what the paying parent should be earning or has earned in the past.

Maryland judges consider the following factors when determing whether to impute income to the paying parent:

  • the parent’s current physical condition
  • the parent’s level of education
  • the timing of the change in financial circumstances
  • the relationship with the other parent
  • the parent’s efforts to find and retain employment and to secure retraining, if needed
  • the parent’s past failure to pay support
  • the parent’s work history and the job market in the area in which the parent lives, and
  • any other considerations presented by either party.

Involuntary Unemployment or Underemployment

Generally speaking, courts will not impute income to paying parents who have incurred a legitimate job loss or reduction in income through no fault of their own. Some examples of an involutnary job loss include:

  • termination or lay off due to the economy or downsizing, and
  • a physical or mental disability or illness which prevents the parent from working.

In the event of a legitimate job loss, it is very important to establish that the loss or reduction in income was unavoidable. It is crucial to document how the job was lost and to provide any written proof.

It is equally important to show that the paying parent is making all reasonable efforts to find a new job. If the internet is being used to job search, the paying parent should print out all applications and responses to the applications. The paying parent may want to keep a log or journal of his or her efforts to find work.

It is always better to have more printed documentation that you ever think you will need in the event that the income loss is challenged as being voluntary.

How Income is Imputed

“Imputed income” means that the court will attribute to the paying parent income that he or she is not actually earning. In these cases, judges will “impute income” onto the paying parent’s actual earnings.

As explained above, when a paying parent has deliberately done something to minimize or eliminate income, the court will not reward this behavior by reducing the paying parent’s child support obligation. The actual child support obligation will be artificially high, given the paying parent’s actual earnings.

While imputing income may seem like a hardship for the paying parent, the law seeks to discourage parents from finding ways to avoid their duty to support their children. Giving the paying parent a break in child support under avoidable circumstances would do just that.

When the court imputes into onto the paying parent, it determines the paying parent’s earning potential (meaning how much income the parent could earn). State law sets out what factors the judge can examine when making this determination with respect to the paying parent:

  • age, mental and physical condition
  • assets
  • educational background, special training or skills
  • prior earnings
  • efforts to find and retain employment
  • the local or regional job market, and the availability of jobs for which the parent is qualifed
  • actual income from any source, and
  • any other factors bearing on the paying parent-parent’s ability to obtain funds for child support.

For example, if the paying parent is a registered nurse, but takes a job as a day care worker, he or she will earn substantially less than could have been earned as a nurse. The paying parent then asks the court for a reduction in child support based on his or her income as a day care worker. If the receiving parent can prove that the paying parent could find a nursing job, the court will calculate the child support obligation based on a nurse’s salary, not the actual salary earned as a day care worker.

Additional Resources

The state law that governs child support is in the Maryland Statutes at MD Code Family Law section 12-201.

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