It’s like a broken record. Two parents who were in a committed relationship or marriage break up. Then they argue about money, year after miserable year, until their children grow up and become financially independent. Worst of all, the parent who feels more hurt or embittered may try to get even with the other parent by skipping out on child support, totally oblivious of the fact that child support belongs to the children and withholding it only hurts them.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Understanding your rights and your responsibilities is the first step toward managing your finances both as a single parent and in partnership with your ex. Both parents have a responsibility to provide economic support for their children. But in reality, one parent typically earns more than the other and that parent (known as the paying parent) will wind up making child support payments to the other parent (the receiving parent).
When paying parents don’t earn enough money and don't pay enough child support, the courts may respond by imputing income to them. This means the court will issue a child support order set at an income level that assumes parents are earning a certain amount of money, even if they really aren't.
This article will explain when and how courts impute income for child support purposes in New Hampshire. If you still have questions after reading this article, you should contact an experienced family law attorney for help.
When your relationship ends, it’s time to set up a child support order. There are two ways to do this. First, you can work it out informally with your ex. This is ideal, because you stay in control of the situation instead of handing it off to a judge who may not fully understand your circumstances. Second, you can go to court.
New Hampshire is a guidelines child support state. This means that the court will start by calculating each parent’s gross income, which is all income from every source—salaries, wages, pensions, tips, and so on. The only items excluded from gross income are means-tested public assistance such as food stamps, TANF, SNAP, and certain other government benefits.
The gross income information is entered into a child support calculator, which applies a mathematical formula and computes each parent's final obligation. Based on income and the amount of time each parent spends with the child, each parent will pay a percentage of the child's support. For more information about what's included in adjusted gross income and how child support is calculated in New Hampshire, please see Child Support in New Hampshire (Nolo).
What if the court issued an order but things have changed, and you think the order should be modified - either up or down? You can go to court and ask for a modification (change to the existing order). If the order has been in place for less than three years, you’ll need to prove to the judge that there’s been a substantial (major) change in the circumstances of the parents or the child that makes the existing order unfair. If it’s been over three years since the order was issued, you don’t have to show a substantial change of circumstances—you can just ask for a modification.
Parents who try to skip out on their child support obligations usually do so in one of two ways:
When parents are voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, judges will impute income to the paying parent because the judge believes the parents can and should be earning more.
But what if a paying parent is involuntarily unemployed or involuntarily underemployed? For example, what if hard-working parents become disabled or are laid off through no fault of their own? In these cases, the court will carefully scrutinize the evidence to make sure that the unemployment or underemployment is truly involuntary. As long the parent's earning power hasn't diminished because of their own bad choices, the court won't impute income.
If you lose your job or income through no fault of your own, make sure you document everything that happens—especially your job search efforts. That way, you can prove to the court that you're trying hard to work and the situation isn't your fault.
When the court computes the income that a paying parent could and should have been earning and includes it in a child support order, the court is "imputing" income to the paying parent. It doesn't matter that the parent hasn't actually earned the imputed amount. The judge believes that the parent is capable of paying child support and should have had earned money in the imputed amount.
New Hampshire law says that when a judge is computing gross income for a parent who’s voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, the judge can consider the difference between what the parent is currently earning and what the parent has earned in the past. The only exception is when the parent is physically or mentally disabled, in which case the element of choice is removed from the equation. The basic rule is that when parents voluntarily choose to be unemployed or underemployed, the court has the power to impute income to them instead of allowing them to walk away with a reduced obligation.
New Hampshire Legal Aid
New Hampshire Judicial Branch
New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Child Support Services
N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 458-C (Child Support Guidelines)
In re Sarvela, 910 A.2d 1214 (N.H. 2006).
In re Bazemore, 899 A.2d 255 (N.H. 2006).
In re Muller, 62 A.3d 770 (N.H. 2013).