In New Mexico, both parents must support their children until they reach 21 years old or become emancipated (or self-supporting). When the parents don’t live together, the custodial parent (the parent who has custody) can obtain court-ordered child support from the noncustodial parent (the parent who does not have custody or who has less custodial time with the children). To learn more about how to estimate child support, see Child Support in New Mexico (Nolo).
Child support is for the care and support of the children. Unfortunately, sometimes, parents don’t want to pay child support or don’t want to pay the amount they’re ordered to pay. To try and avoid their child support obligation, paying parents may quit work or take employment that pays much less than their earning potential. In such cases, courts will assume, or impute, an income higher than what the paying parent is actually earning.
This article explains why and how courts impute income for child support purposes in New Mexico. If you still have questions after reading this article, you should contact an experienced family law attorney for help.
In New Mexico, the first step in determining the amount of child support that should be ordered is to determine each parent’s income. Income consists of more than just the salary one earns at a job. Income also includes:
When a parent isn’t working, isn’t working full-time, or is working in a job for which he is over qualified, the court will also consider “imputing income” to him or her.
“Imputing income” is what the court does when it thinks that the non-custodial parent has purposefully reduced his or her income to pay less child support. By imputing income, a judge will assign the non-custodial parent an income greater than what he or she earns because the court believes that parent could be making more money to support the children. The New Mexico Child Support Guidelines give the court authority to consider as income a parent’s “potential income” when the parent is “unemployed or underemployed,” which means being over-qualified for a position.
In order for the court to impute income to a parent, a judge must first determine that the noncustodial parent has become voluntarily unemployed or underemployed in order to pay less child support. If the court determines that the parent is purposefully unemployed or chose employment paying less than the parent’s earning potential in order to pay less child support, the court will impute, or assign, that parent a higher income for purposes of determining child support.
However, the court won’t impute income to a parent who is legitimately out of work. For example, where a company lays off the parent or reduces the parent’s working hours, the court will not impute income because such actions are out of the parent’s control. Similarly, if the noncustodial parent becomes physically or mentally incapable of working, he or she will not be considered to have voluntarily reduced income.
Furthermore, the Court of Appeals of New Mexico, the highest court in the state, has ruled that a parent will not be considered underemployed for child support purposes, and therefore income will not be imputed, where he or she could make more money in another state away from the child. Rather, if the parent has made career choices without the intention of reducing or avoiding child support and is working in his or her area of expertise and earning an amount within the range of that field, the court won't find the parent underemployed or impute income.
The court will only impute income to a parent once the court has determined that the parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed in order to reduce or avoid child support. Then, the court will consider a number of factors to determine how much income to impute to the parent, including:
Ultimately, a court will impute an amount of income that a parent would be earning if he or she was working in a field and at an employment level for which he or she is qualified.
For the full text of the Child Support Guidelines, see N.M. Stat. Ann. § 40-4-11.1.
The website of the New Mexico Child Support Enforcement Division provides a variety of information about child support.