Written by: Lenorae Atter, Attorney at Law
In Jacksonville and throughout Florida, child support is dictated by a statutory guideline calculation. The calculation takes the income of both parents, gives credit to the parent responsible for paying for the child’s health insurance and daycare and the overnight time-sharing schedule. The calculation is meant to put the child in the same position she or he would have been in had the parents lived in the same household. However, since it is based on incomes, what happens if one of the parents doesn’t work or a parent voluntarily quits his or her job to avoid paying child support?
In Florida, income may be imputed, meaning established without actual pay, if the parent is found by the court to be voluntarily unemployed or underemployed. For example, if it can be shown that the parent has a medical degree, but is a cashier at a grocery store, then the court may conclude that the parent is voluntarily underemployed from his or her skill set. This is especially valid if the parent has been working as a doctor during the marriage, and upon divorce decided to work as a cashier. If the court determines that the parent is underemployed voluntarily, then the court may impute income to the parent equal to that of recent work history, qualifications, and the earning level for someone in a comparable position in the community.
If a parent decides not to participate in child support proceedings, then the court may impute income to the parent based on the median income of full-time, yearly workers based on the US Bureau of Census findings. However, if the Court finds that the parent needs to stay home with the child, then the court may not impute income under the following conditions defined by Florida Statute 61.30(2)(b):
a. The unemployment or underemployment is voluntary; and
b. Identifies the amount and source of the imputed income, through evidence of income from available employment for which the party is suitably qualified by education, experience, current licensure, or geographic location, with due consideration being given to the parties’ time-sharing schedule and their historical exercise of the time-sharing provided in the parenting plan or relevant order.
When income is to be imputed, the burden of proof, meaning the party responsible for proving to the court that an imputation of income is proper, falls on the requesting party. Also, all facts or evidence regarding what the income should be falls on the requesting party. What this means is that Parent X is asking the court to impute income to Parent Y, then Parent X must present evidence as to why the income of Y should be imputed, such as providing proof of the medical degree. Also, Parent X must present evidence to what amount of income should be imputed. The way to do this is to show evidence of past earnings (i.e. tax returns for the last 5 years), potential earnings in the area as a similar doctor, if available (i.e. a doctor may testify), and/or actually presenting the median income of annual full-time workers are reported by the U.S. Bureau of Census. You should speak with an family law attorney about your rights and options concerning these matters and to make certain they are presented correctly to the court.