In family court, sometimes a higher wage earner will defeat his or her own reported income by quitting a job to become “self employed” or to work “under the table.” Other times, a lower wage earner who is qualified to do work will avoid looking for work, or will remain intentionally under-employed. In cases like this, it would not be fair to require the spouse who is working at his or her capacity to bear the burden of the other parent’s failure to find work or to maximize earning potential.
In such cases, California will “impute” income to the party who is not working to full capacity, or who is unwilling to embark on a career. In a manner similar to this article from Florida, below, California courts will determine (a) what the party’s qualifications and training are; (b) whether there are jobs available in the area; (c) which available jobs the target spouse would qualify to work in; and (d) the amount the target spouse would earn if he or she sought such employment. This number will then be used to determine child and spousal support.
The downside of imputed income is this: the non-working spouse may have a higher amount of support to pay based upon imputed income, but may still never pay the full ordered support. Arrears in the tens of thousands may build up. Interest may blow that figure up significantly. But nothing can create income where there is none. At times imputed income can be cold comfort.