Most parents willingly support their children to the best of their ability, both emotionally and financially, whether they are married or not. When parents divorce or break up, the noncustodial parent (the one with less parenting time) usually pays child support to the custodial parent (the parent with more custodial time) based on the parents’ respective incomes. Some noncustodial parents, unfortunately, will refuse to provide their income information for child support calculations, or worse, may even quit a job or take a lower paying job to avoid paying child support.
Most states have laws to protect against a parent who refuses to provide accurate income information or voluntarily quits a job or is underemployed. These states will “impute income” to the parent trying to escape child support by attributing income to that parent based on that parent’s earning potential rather than what that parent actually earns.
This article will cover some of the basics of child support in Vermont, and then explain how courts impute income in Vermont. If you have additional questions about imputed income in Vermont after reading this article, contact a family law attorney in your area.
Vermont courts calculate child support by using state Child Support Guidelines. Courts take the gross income of each parent and then subtract certain items to determine how much income is available for child support. To learn more about calculating child support in Vermont, read Child Support in Vermont.
In Vermont, courts calculate available income by deducting from gross income any taxes paid, alimony payments, support for other children, and the cost of health insurance for the children. Then the courts enter each parent’s available income into a worksheet to determine how much child support is recommended by the guidelines. There are different child support worksheets depending on whether the parents have sole or split custody of the minor children, or whether the parents have shared custody.
Vermont courts have the power to adjust the amount of child support recommended by the worksheets to arrive at a fair child support amount. Courts will adjust child support up or down based on the following factors:
Vermont courts always have the right to modify child support if circumstances changes. If it’s been less than three years since the last child support amount was ordered, a parent needs to show a substantial change in financial circumstances to have child support modified.
Vermont law doesn’t allow a parent to escape paying child support by refusing to provide income information, or by purposely earning less money than a parent is able. In these situations, courts will determine how much a parent should be able to earn and use that potential income rather than the parent’s actual income in child support calculations. This process of attributing to a parent his or her potential income is called “imputing income.”
Courts will impute income to prevent a parent from intentionally earning less to avoid paying child support, but also try not to punish parents who are legitimately unemployed or underemployed. For these reasons, Vermont law treats unemployed or underemployed parents differently, depending on whether their job status is voluntary or involuntary.
Vermont courts will not impute income to a parent who is in one of the following involuntary situations:
A parent’s unemployment can be in the best interests of a child if the child is mentally or physically disabled and needs constant care, or if the cost of childcare for the child would be more than the amount the parent would earn from working.
For example, in a case where a mother stayed home with her six children, had limited employment history, and would likely not earn more than minimum wage, Vermont courts found her to be involuntarily unemployed. When a court is determining whether a stay-at-home parent is voluntarily unemployed, the court considers the following:
The court will impute income to a parent who is found to be voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, in an amount reasonable for that parent to earn. That imputed income will then be used in the child support calculations.
Once a Vermont court finds that a parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, the court must then determine an appropriate amount of income to impute to that parent. Vermont courts will impute income to a parent based on all sources of income the court believes are available to that parent. The court can consider potential salary and wages, but also potential commissions, royalties, bonuses, dividends, severance pay, pensions, interest, trust income, gifts, and benefits from sources like social security, workers compensation, unemployment insurance, and disability benefits.
In determining the amount of salary or wages a parent has the potential to earn, Vermont courts may consider the following:
Once the court decides on the amount of income to impute to a parent, the court will use that amount of income (just as if it is the parent’s actual income) in the child support calculations.
If you have additional questions about imputed income in Vermont, contact a Vermont family law attorney.
To read the full text of the law on child support and imputed income in Vermont, read the Vermont Statutes Annotated Title 15, Chapter 11, § 653-663.