Most information on the imputation of income during a divorce focuses on the income of the paying spouse, but the same rules apply to the spouse who is seeking support. Spouses may need financial support for a variety of reasons, but one of the most common situations applies to individuals who left their jobs to become stay at home parents. Most of these parents have the intention of returning to work once the children are older, but at that point, it would be difficult to find a job that would be equitable to the one they gave up. They may also need to obtain further education, training and re-certification, depending on their chosen profession.
If spouses cannot come to an agreement on support, the court must make a determination based on numerous factors, including imputed income. To be clear, imputed income is a theoretical amount that is attributed to someone who has the ability to earn that amount, or has earned a certain amount in the past. In the case of a stay at home parent with advanced education and previous work history, the court would impute an amount based on that history, and use that as a factor towards the calculation of alimony. This method ensures that one spouse is not completely supporting the other for life, while giving assistance to the receiving spouse until he or she becomes self-sufficient.
While income imputation sounds like a fair practice, there are some very important considerations that apply specifically to people who have been out of work for a long time. First, a person who has been out of work for several years may have to take an entry level position in another field based on the current economy. Second, even if they find work in the same field, many companies will not pay upper level salaries to those who have a significant gap in their employment history. Third, a stay at home parent may need to be re-educated or receive up to date training depending on his or her profession. Attending school or training may take away that person's ability to work full-time, which means they would need additional support for a set duration of time.
As you can see, the imputation of income is a complicated process, and you can't always trust the courts to get it right. That's why it's essential to work with an experienced divorce attorney who will present all the relevant factors at your hearing. Your lawyer can also advise you on what to do if an imputation seems too high, thereby resulting in a much lower alimony payment than you deserve. Filing an appeal is one option, but it may be better to negotiate for the other party to pay for schooling or training, or receive additional marital assets in lieu of cash. For more information on imputing income towards alimony, or any other divorce-related concerns, please speak with the attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C.