It’s a fact of life that some parents will want to be more involved in their children’s lives than other parents. Yet, regardless of whether a parent is actively involved in their child’s life or not, their duty to financially support that child remains. Even amid job loss or career change, a parent’s legal obligation to financially support their child continues.
A parent that attempts to shirk their child support obligations by quitting a well-paying job to pursue minimum wage employment or quits their job altogether, is making a mistake. Missouri courts are prepared to deal with these types of situations and may impute income to parents who try to avoid their child support obligations.
This article provides a general overview of how and under what circumstances courts will impute income for child support purposes in Missouri. If, after reading this article, you still have questions about imputing income, you should contact a local family law attorney for advice.
Missouri has created guidelines for calculating child support which are largely dependent upon the reported gross monthly incomes of the parents. For child support purposes, a parent’s income includes a parent’s salary, wages, overtime, veteran’s benefits, commissions, tips, severance pay, bonuses, dividends, annuities, social security and capital gains. Click here to learn more about child support orders in Missouri.
Additionally, the court may consider the following factors when determining child support:
In reviewing the parents’ total financial picture, a court may determine that a parent is voluntarily earning less than they could or should be earning. If a court determines that a parent could and should be making more, it will impute, or assign, additional income to that parent, increasing their child support obligation accordingly.
After considering the above factors, a court may decide to impute, or assign, additional income to a parent beyond what the parent presently earns. Missouri courts may impute income when a parent is not working full-time, unemployed, or earning less than their full potential based upon the parent’s work history, training and qualifications. Situations where a court will impute income include both voluntary unemployment and underemployment situations.
A parent is underemployed when they make a choice or take an action to reduce their earning potential or income. This can include refusing a promotion, delaying a bonus or commission or quitting a well-paying job to pursue low-level employment.
Notably, in Missouri, a parent that leaves a well-paying job, even for a justifiable reason, may be considered underemployed. In determining whether an voluntary underemployment situation exists, Missouri courts will decide whether the parent could produce more income with a reasonable amount of effort.
The court will also review the following factors to determine if an increased child support award is appropriate:
A parent is voluntarily unemployed when he or she chooses not to work, though physically able to do so. Rather, a voluntary unemployment situation exists when a parent quits their job, is intentionally terminated, or is laid off but refuses to seek new employment.
However, a parent that quits their job to pursue additional education may not be voluntarily unemployed for child support purposes since they are increasing their ability to provide later on. Likewise, a parent dealing with a chronic illness or a parent that cares full-time for a dependent child or adult is not necessarily voluntarily unemployed.
If a court has determined that a parent could and should be earning more due to a voluntary unemployment or underemployment situation, the court will review the parent’s employment history and education as well as financial information such as prior tax returns, check stubs and any other relevant financial information.
If no financial information is available for the allegedly underemployed or voluntarily unemployed parent, the court will impute a full-time minimum wage income to that parent.
However, even after the court has made a decision to impute income to a parent, either parent may file documents to decrease or increase the amount imputed to a parent based upon clear evidence.
If you have other questions about imputing income for purposes of child support in Missouri, contact an experienced family law attorney for assistance.
Missouri maintains a state website to help parents who want to file a child support modification action on their own at www.courts.mo.gov.
For more information on the factors considered in child support modification actions and imputing income in Missouri, see Missouri Revised Statutes, Title XXX, Chapter 452.340.