Imputing Income for Child Support in Oklahoma

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

Introduction

It's the oldest story in the world. Two people meet and fall in love. They make a decision to commit to each other, and then they have a baby together. Everyone lives happily ever after. Right? Well, maybe.

The ugly truth is that a large percentage of American families fall apart when the parents end their relationship. The first—and hardest—question that parents have to ask themselves is how they'll support their children financially. The answer is that all parents have an obligation to provide financial support to their children, but usually one parent ("the paying parent") has a greater income and has to pay more child support than the other parent ("the receiving parent").

Because break-ups and divorces are fraught with painful emotions, it's tempting for some paying parents to try to use child support as leverage to hurt the receiving parent. They may try to avoid paying child support. But this is a serious mistake. Child support is money that belongs to the children and can only be spent to cover their expenses.The act of writing a check and giving it to the receiving parent doesn't mean that the money belongs to that parent. Withholding child support only hurts children.

When parents try to avoid paying child support, the courts sometimes respond by "imputing" income to them. This means that the court will issue a child support order that assumes the paying parent is working and making money, even if he or she is not.

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

What Do I Need to Know About an Oklahoma Child Support Order?

When your relationship has ended and you need a decision about child support, there are two possibilities:

  • you can work out an agreement with your ex (as long as it's in the best interest of your child, a judge will approve it) or,
  • if you can't agree, a judge will decide how much child support has to be paid by each parent.

Oklahoma uses a statewide guideline to determine child support. This means that the paying parent has to pay a certain percentage of adjusted gross income to the receiving parent, depending on the number of children the couple has together and the amount of time the children spend with each parent. This information is entered into a child support calculator, which computes each parent's final obligation to pay for child support and medical and dental expenses.

The guidelines apply to all cases, so if you think the paying parent should be paying more or less than the guidelinesamount, you have to ask a judge for a deviation. The court will only give you a deviation if you can prove that theguidelines amount is unjust, unreasonable, and not in the best interests of the child.

For more information about what's included in adjusted gross income and how child support is calculated in Oklahoma, please see Child Support in Oklahoma (Nolo).

You can go to court and ask for a modification of a child support order if there is a material change in circumstances. This means that the paying parent's income has increased or decreased, or the needs of the child have increased or decreased. The judge will look at all the evidence and either change the amount of child support or deny the request for a change.

What if the Paying Parent Claims to Have no Income?

When paying parents evade responsibility for their child support obligations, they generally do one of two things:

  • The paying parent voluntarily becomes unemployed. For example, a paying parent might quit a job or sabotage work performance until an employer is forced to fire the parent.
  • The paying parent voluntarily becomes "underemployed." Underemployment means that the paying parent isn't working the usual amount of hours or at the regular pay rate, perhaps because the parent asked for fewer hours or accepted a position with less responsibility.

When parents are voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, judges will impute income to the paying parent (meaning, they will assign the amount the paying parent could have earned when they calculate guidelines child support).

But what if a paying parent is involuntarily unemployed or involuntarily underemployed? For example, what if a hard-working parent is laid off from a longtime job? 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, be proactive and make sure you document everything that happens. That way you can prove to the court that you're trying hard to work and the situation isn't your fault.

What is Imputed Income?

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 wages or a salary in the imputed amount.

A judge can impute gross income to a parent instead of using the parent's actual or average income. The baseline amount to impute is minimum wage for a 40-hour work week. But before the court can impute income, it first has to analyze the following factors:

  • whether a parent is willfully or voluntarily underemployed or unemployed
  • whether there is no reliable evidence of income (for example, pay stubs and tax returns)
  • the past and present employment of the parent
  • the parent's education, training, and ability to work
  • the parent's lifestyle, including ownership of valuable assets and resources
  • the role of a parent as a caretaker of a handicapped or seriously ill child or other relative, and
  • any other factors that are relevant in the case.

A court can't impute income unless it's equitable (fair and reasonable) to do so. Imputation of income is limited to situations where parents choose not to work or choose to be underemployed.

By contrast, people who can't work won't have income imputed to them. For example, people who the Social Security Administration has deemed to be disabled will not have income imputed to them. Similarly, underage parents will not have income imputed to them because in the eyes of the law, they aren't capable of making major legal decisions.

Resources

Oklahoma Department of Human Services, Child Support Services

Okla. Stat. tit. 43, § 118B

Okla. Stat. tit. 43, § 118I

Complete Okla. Admin. Code (2013)

Okla. Admin. Code. tit. 340, ch. 25

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