Imputing Income for Child Support in New York

A look at the process of imputing income in New York and how it impacts child support.

In New York, both parents are responsible for the financial well-being of their children and for providing monetary support until the child turns 21 or the child is emancipated (self-supporting). The amount of child support each parent must pay is determined in New York by the Child Support Standards Act (CSSA). The CSSA sets forth a strict formula to determine the amount of support that both the custodial and non-custodial parent must contribute to their child. See New York Child Support FAQs (Nolo) for information on how to estimate child support in New York.

Unfortunately, sometimes a parent does not want to pay child support or does not want to pay as much child support as the court orders. That parent may intentionally reduce his or her income to manipulate a child support order. In New York, the court may “impute income” to a parent who is trying to pay less or get out of paying child support altogether.

This article explains when and how courts impute income for child support purposes in New York. If you still have questions after reading this article, you should contact an experienced New York family law attorney for help.

Determining Child Support Amounts

The first step in calculating any child support obligation is to determine each parent’s income. In New York, courts consider all income of each parent, not only the wages or salary earned from a job. Some additional sources that may be considered in determining total income include:

  • money obtained from investments
  • worker’s compensation
  • disability benefits (both private and government benefits)
  • unemployment benefits
  • Social Security income
  • Veteran’s benefits
  • pensions and retirement benefits, and
  • fellowships and stipends.

Furthermore, where the court finds a parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed (earning less than he or she is capable of earning), the court may “impute income” based upon the parent’s proven earning capacity.

Imputed Income

If a court finds that a parent is intentionally unemployed, underemployed, or earning less than what he or she previously earned in order to avoid or reduce child support, the court may “impute income.” “Imputing income” means that a judge assigns the parent an income different from what he or she is earning because the court believes the parent is capable of earning more for the purposes of child support. Usually, the imputed income will be the amount that the parent was previously earning.

For example, let's say that a custodial parent files for child support and a hearing date is set. Before the child support hearing, the non-custodial parent quits her job as a nurse, which pays $60,000 per year, and takes a job making $8.00 per hour at a fast food restaurant. In this case, the court may impute income because she quit her job to take a position for which she is over-qualified. In such a case, the court would likely impute an income of $60,000 per year to the non-custodial parent because that is the amount she is capable of earning based on her last position.

In New York, courts may also impute income from sources other than paid employment. For example, if the parent has other assets, receives perks or fringe benefits from his or her employment (like free housing), or obtains money or goods from relatives or friends, the value of such can be used to determine a parent’s imputed income.

Factors Courts Consider in Determining Whether to Impute Income

When deciding whether to impute income to a parent, the court will look at many factors, including:

  • the parent’s past earnings
  • the parent’s actual earning capacity
  • the parent’s educational background
  • the earnings of others with similar educational or professional backgrounds
  • whether the parent is using his or her best efforts to obtain appropriate employment for his or her qualifications and experience, and
  • the reason for the reduced income (whether voluntary or involuntary).

The court must listen to the reasons the parent gives for why his or her income has been reduced. The court may not impute income where income was reduced as the result of factors outside of the parent’s control, such as health problems, general economic conditions, or company downsizing. However, to avoid imputed income, the parent must be able to give a good and believable explanation for the loss of income.

Resources

For the statute governing child support and imputing income, see N.Y. Fam. Ct. Act § 413.

New York’s Division of Child Support Enforcement provides a variety of information regarding child support, including a child support calculator.

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