Calculating Child Support When Your Spouse is Underemployed

When it comes to child support, which is calculated according to the payor’s income and the number of children, one spouse may allege that the other is either not reporting all income or deliberately under-employing themselves. Sometimes, the spouse obligated to pay support will say, “I might as well quit my job so I don’t have to pay so much support.” The paying spouse feels like he or she is being penalized for earning more income and asks counsel if he or she can switch to a less profitable profession.

Hiding income, deliberating reducing income, or declining promotions during a child support dispute is an ill-advised decision. Under Illinois law, the court has the ability to “impute income” in cases where a parent appears to be trying to circumvent his or her duty to pay child support.

When income is imputed, the court can look at a number of factors to determine what income value should be assigned. Some considerations include: past earnings, spending habits, acquired property, bank statements, mental and physical health, education and training, work experience, whether the parent quit, was fired, laid off, or declined a promotion. The imputed value will likely be higher than current earnings if the court finds the parent is deliberately under-employing himself or refusing to work at all.

For example, In In re Marriage of Adams, 348 Ill. App. 3d 340 (3rd Dist. 2004), the trial court found that it was proper to impute income to the father based on his prior employment.  He had voluntarily quit his job as a television news helicopter pilot earning $55,000 per year and moved to Germany with his girlfriend.

In In re Marriage of Sweet, 316 Ill. App. 3d 101 (2nd Dist. 2000), the court properly imputed income to the father when it found that he was not acting in good faith. Father had started his own extermination business, which was not as profitable as his prior employment.  The trial court found that he was not acting in good faith. He was more interested in being his own boss and buying a new truck for himself than in supporting his children.

Courts are unwavering in the position that parents have a legal obligation to support their children. If you suspect your spouse is deliberately trying to evade that obligation, advocating for imputation of income may be critical. Importantly, your lawyer should properly advise you how to go about proving the appropriate income.


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