Continuing on the topic of child support, this post talks about imputation of income.

Typically, child support is calculated pursuant to a rigid formula which takes into account just two things: the net income of the parties and the time share of the children between the parties.

But what happens if one of the parties doesn’t work? Does that automatically set that party’s income at zero?

Not necessarily. Often, a parent will decide that he/she wants to be a stay-at-home parent and can’t work. This parent will assume that the other parent needs to pay lots of support and reduce his/her time with the child because he/she is working all the time. That doesn’t sound very fair, does it?

It’s also contrary to the law.

In California, both parents share an equal responsibility to support their children (California Family Code (CFC) §3900). Neither parent has the luxury of refusing to work (Marriage of Hinman, 55 Cal.App.4th 988, 999). It is within the Court’s discretion to impute income to a party based on his/her earning capacity (CFC §3058(b) and In re Marriage of LaBass & Munsee (1997) 56 Cal.App.4th 1331, 1339) provided he/she has the ability and opportunity (State of Oregon v. Vargas (1999) 70 Cal.App.4th 1123, 1127).

In other words, even if a party isn’t working, the Court can determine a support obligation as if he/she is working based on that person’s ability to work.

Now, obviously the Court has to take into account the history of the case. If the non-working party hasn’t had a job in 20 years and has spent all of the time taking care of the children, the Court is going to assess a different earning capacity from, say, a parent who has worked for the last 20 years and just quit to be with the children.

It still may be worth requesting an imputation of income, however. After all, you don’t get what you don’t ask for. At the very least, as relief in the alternative, one can request that a non-working party have a minimum-wage income imputed ($8/hour or $1,387 per month).

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