Imputing Income for Child Support in Virginia

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

All parents have a legal duty to financially support their children, whether they are married to one another or not. When parents are divorcing or breaking up, they may end up asking a court to determine whether either parent must pay child support. A court will ask that they both provide proof of their income so a judge can decide on a child support amount.

Sometimes, however, a parent may refuse to provide income information or even purposely earn less money to try to lower his or her child support obligation. When this happens, courts in most states have the power to "impute income" to that parent in order to calculate child support, meaning the court decides what income the parent is able to earn and substitutes it for the income information the parent provided.

This article explains the basics of child support as well as how courts impute income in Virginia. If you have additional questions about imputed income in Virginia after reading this article, contact a local family law attorney.

Overview of Child Support in Virginia

Virginia has Child Support Guidelines that courts use to determine child support. Generally, courts calculate child support based on the gross income of both parents and the number of children. To learn more about calculating child support in Virginia, see Child Support Laws in Virginia.

The amount of support that the parents will have to provide together for the children is usually between 10 and 25 percent of their combined income, with each parent providing support for the children in proportion to the income they each earn. The courts can adjust the guideline amount the noncustodial parent pays to the custodial parent based on other expenses, including medical and dental insurance for the children, childcare expenses for the children, and whether the parents have shared custody or one parent has sole custody of the children.

Most noncustodial parents will pay the amount of child support that comes from the above calculation, but parents can ask that the child support amount also be adjusted if there are other circumstances that would make the calculated child support amount unfair. The types of circumstances that may convince the court to further adjust the child support amount include the following:

  • support a parent provides for other family members
  • other costs related to visitation with the children, including travel expenses
  • debts incurred that benefit the child
  • special physical, mental, or medical needs of the child
  • the child's financial resources
  • standard of living during the marriage (if the parents were previously married)
  • money gained from sale of marital property (if the parents were previously married)
  • earning ability and needs of each parent
  • tax consequences, and
  • any other factors that affect the fairness of the child support amount.

The court can also modify the child support amount if the parents' financial circumstances change in the future.

What is Imputed Income?

In Virginia, the ability of a parent to pay child support is based not just on a parent's earnings, but a parent's ability to earn. In other words, the court can base child support on what a parent could earn, not simply what a parent actually earns. For example, if a parent voluntarily takes a job that provides less income than before, the court has the power to base child support on that parent's previous income. Also, if a parent is voluntarily unemployed or refuses to provide income information, the court can make its own decision on what income that parent could earn and use that amount for child support calculations; this is called "imputing income."

The Important Difference Between Voluntary and Involuntary Unemployment

In Virginia, the courts make a distinction between a parent who is voluntarily earning less money than he or she is able to earn, and a parent who is involuntarily unemployed or underemployed. Courts don't impute income to parents who are involuntarily unemployed or underemployed, including the following situations:

  • a parent has never been employed
  • a child is not in school and childcare services are not available
  • a parent is in job training or other education intended to increase the parent's earning potential, or
  • a parent is unable to work because of a physical or mental disability.

If a parent makes a job change that lowers his or her income, the court will consider the reasons the parent changed jobs when deciding whether the parent is involuntarily unemployed or underemployed. For example, if a parent takes a lower paying job that is expected to increase that parent's earning potential in the future, the court may determine that the parent is not voluntarily unemployed and refrain from imputing income for child support purposes.

On the other hand, if a parent purposely takes a lower paying job without good cause, the court may impute income to that parent. And, courts can impute income to a parent who begins earning less income, even if the job change was not specifically for the purpose of lowering child support. The court will consider the specific circumstances of each case before deciding whether a parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed.

It is possible for a court to impute income to a parent who changes jobs expecting an increase in income that doesn't pan out. For example, if a parent quits a job with a salary of $40,000 to take a job with a salary of $20,000 and expected commissions of $30,000, but the parent doesn't earn any commission, the court can still base child support on the previous salary of $40,000. Virginia courts believe that the parent changing jobs assumes the risk of unpredictable income and can't escape child support because of a lower income.

Also, if a parent gets fired for cause, that parent will be found to be voluntarily unemployed, and the court will impute income to that parent. If a parent is laid off or fired without cause, the court will view that parent as involuntarily unemployed and won't impute income for child support purposes.

How Does Virginia Calculate Imputed Income?

When a court in Virginia determines that a parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, or a parent refuses to provide income information, the court will then decide how much income to impute to the parent. Virginia courts first look at the last available monthly income; if that income is representative of what the parent could earn, that amount will be the imputed income.

If no actual income information is available, the court may use the federal minimum wage multiplied by 40 hours per week, and multiply that by 4.333 to reach a monthly income for the parent. At the time of this article, federal minimum wage is $7.25, which yields a monthly imputed income of $1,255.70.

The court can also choose the calculate a parent's imputed income by considering the following factors:

  • a parent's work history
  • a parent's education level
  • a parent's job skills, and
  • actual job openings the parent is qualified for, and their starting salaries.

Once the court looks at these factors, it may impute a median income - an amount in the middle of the starting salaries for eligible, open jobs. Proving the amount of income a parent can earn is often complicated; if you are trying to prove imputed income for your child's other parent, you should contact a local family law attorney for help.

Resources

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

To read the full text of the law on child support and imputed income in Virginia, read the Code of Virginia, Title 20, Chapter 6, Sections 20-108.1 – 20-108.2.

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