Regardless of whether a parent is emotionally or physically involved in their child’s life, both parents have a legal duty to financially support their child. Most paying parents don't have a problem keeping up with their child support orders. But sometimes, a parent may quit a well-paying job in order to avoid child support. A parent that hides out or quits a good job in order to lower their support obligation is making a mistake they will end up paying for later on. West Virginia courts are prepared to deal with these types of situations and by imputing income to parents who try to avoid their child support obligations.
This article provides a general overview of how and under what circumstances courts will impute income for child support purposes in West Virginia. If after reading this article, you still have questions about imputing income, you should contact a local family law attorney for advice.
West Virginia maintains statutory guidelines for calculating child support found in the West Virginia Code, Section 48-13-403. In West Virginia, the total amount of child support ordered will be based upon the reported gross monthly incomes of the parents. For child support purposes, a parent’s monthly income includes their salary, wages, overtime, commissions, tips, severance pay, bonuses, dividends, social security and capital gains. If a court determines that a parent is voluntarily earning less than they could or should be earning, the court may attribute, or impute, income to that parent and increase that parent’s child support obligation accordingly. See Child Support in West Virginia to learn more.
When a court imputes income, it will attribute income to a parent beyond what is actually earned because the parent is unemployed, not working full-time or is earning less than their full capacity. A court may impute or attribute income to a parent for child support purposes after reviewing the parent’s work history, qualifications, education and medical condition and finding that the parent is capable of earning more. This can include both voluntary unemployment or underemployment situations.
A parent is voluntarily unemployed when the parent is able to work but chooses not to. A parent that cares full-time for a disabled child or adult or is too ill to work, is not voluntarily unemployed. Rather, voluntary unemployment situations exist when a parent quits their job, intentionally gets fired, or is laid off but refuses to seek new employment opportunities without justification.
West Virginia courts do not consider the following situations to be evidence of voluntary unemployment or underemployment:
An underemployment situation exists when a parent takes an action that negatively affects their income other than the circumstances listed above. This can include delaying a bonus, refusing a promotion or quitting a well-paying corporate job to make minimum wage at a burger joint. In determining whether a parent is voluntarily underemployed, West Virginia courts will review the parent’s job history, education, health and age and determine whether the parent could reasonably produce more income.
Once a court has determined that a parent is avoiding child support obligations through an unemployment or underemployment situation, the court will review the parent’s employment history. To decide how much income to impute, West Virginia courts will review the parent’s prior tax returns, check stubs or other relevant financial information. The court may also assess the following factors:
Nevertheless, even after income has been imputed, either parent may file documents with the court to decrease or increase the amount imputed to a parent based on reliable and clear evidence.
West Virginia maintains a state website to help parents who want to file a child support modification action on their own at www.courtswv.gov. If you have other questions about imputing income for purposes of child support in West Virginia contact an experienced family law attorney for assistance.
For more information on the factors considered in child support modification actions and imputing income in West Virginia, see West Virginia Code, Chapter 48, Article 1, Section 205.