Imputing Income for Child Support in South Carolina

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

All parents have a duty to support their children’s development, both financially and emotionally. Married parents usually support their children voluntarily, as both parents are living with the children. When parents of children aren’t married to one another (for example, as the result of a breakup or divorce), the laws of their state determine how much child support should be paid.

Typically, a noncustodial parent pays an amount of child support to the custodial parent based on a calculation that uses both parents’ incomes. Sometimes, however, a noncustodial parent purposely takes a job earning less, or even quits a job, to lower or cancel his or her child support obligation. When this happens, a court may attribute a higher income to that parent to be used in child support calculations; this process is called “imputing income.”

This article will explain when and how courts impute income in South Carolina. If you have additional questions after reading this article, you should contact a local family law attorney.

Overview of Child Support in South Carolina

South Carolina courts determine child support using a  Child Support Obligation Worksheet. Generally, the court uses the total income of both parents to determine how much money needs to be spent supporting the children, and then the noncustodial parent pays child support based on a percentage of his or her share of the parents’ total income. To learn more about the specifics of child support calculations, read  Child Support Laws in South Carolina. South Carolina takes several factors into account when determining child support:

  • the gross income of each parent
  • health insurance and medical expenses needed for the child
  • child support being paid by the noncustodial parent for other children
  • children from other relationships that live with each parent
  • the amount of time the children spend with each parent
  • child-care expenses for the children, and
  • taxes, FICA, and other deductions.

The court may make other adjustments to child support based on the circumstances of each particular case.

Courts may modify child support if a parent loses or changes jobs. When a parent wants to lower child support because of decreased income, the court may look into the reasons for the decreased income before lowering child support.

What is Imputed Income?

Courts in South Carolina may use a higher amount of income in child support calculations for a parent that is deliberately earning less income than he or she is able to earn; the court can impute the amount of income it believes a parent should be earning for use in determining child support. South Carolina law allows courts to impute income when a parent is voluntarily unemployed or voluntarily underemployed.

The Important Difference Between Involuntary and Voluntary Unemployment

While a court may impute income to a parent who is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, the court won’t impute income to a parent whose income has decreased involuntarily.

Involuntary Unemployment

In cases where a parent’s income has legitimately decreased, the court will use the parent’s new lower income when determining child support. For example, a court may find that a parent’s income decrease is involuntary in the following situations:

  • a physical or mental disability prevents the parent from working (or from working at full capacity)
  • a parent must take care of a child with a physical or mental disability, preventing that parent from earning income to his or her potential
  • a parent is laid off or otherwise involuntarily loses employment, and
  • a parent is diligently seeking a job up to his or her potential but cannot find work.

South Carolina courts look at all circumstances surrounding a parent’s unemployment or underemployment to determine if it is voluntary or involuntary. In addition to the above factors, the court will consider the parent’s reasons for leaving a job or changing jobs, whether they have the job skills or education to find employment, and the availability of job opportunities in the area. The court will also consider the efforts made by an unemployed or underemployed parent to find a job with income up to that parent’s potential, including submitting job applications, going on interviews, and whether that parent has turned down job opportunities.

When the court determines that a parent’s unemployment was involuntary, the court will use that parent’s present income to determine child support.

Voluntary Unemployment

Parents that quit work, cut back on hours, or refuse to diligently seek work and claim to have no money for child support will not be viewed favorably. It is in these types of circumstances that a court may find the parent is trying to avoid child support. If the court finds that a parent’s unemployment or underemployment is voluntary, the court may impute a higher amount of income than what the parent actually earns.

How Does South Carolina Calculate Imputed Income?

If a court finds that a parent who pays child support is purposely earning less money than he or she is capable of earning, the court will impute income using the following factors:

  • the paying parent’s past income
  • the paying parent’s education or job training
  • income earned by individuals in the area with similar education or job skills
  • jobs available in the area that the parent could obtain
  • sources of income not typically considered in child support like Supplemental Security Income (SSI), food stamps, or other public assistance
  • rehabilitative alimony that is paid to help a parent become employed, and
  • assets a parent could use to generate income, like rental property or vacant land.

South Carolina law doesn’t allow a parent to escape child support obligations by purposely staying unemployed or refusing to earn up to his or her ability. Instead, the court will order a voluntarily unemployed or underemployed parent to pay child support based on his or her potential income.


If you have additional questions about imputed income in South Carolina, contact a local family law attorney.

To read the full text of the law on determining child support in South Carolina, read the South Carolina Code of Regulations Chapter 114, Article 47.

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