New Jersey child support payments are calculated according to the Income Shares Model, which is largely based on the available income of each parent. While there are many other factors to consider, the calculations are fairly straight-forward when the parents earn a steady paycheck. However, the situation is much more complex for parents who are unemployed or underemployed, meaning that they are earning a lot less than they should based on their education and job history. If the parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, the court may choose to impute his or her income by increasing the amount of available income based on the parent's earning capacity.
It's important to stress that imputing income is done on a case-by-case basis. The main reason for taking this action is to ensure that a parent is not purposely earning less of underreporting income for the sake of avoiding child support. Before imputing a parent's income, the court must consider four factors:
- The reasons and intentions behind the voluntary unemployment or underemployment.
- What the parent's earning capacity would have been had the marriage remained intact.
- Other assets that may be used towards child support payments.
- The ages of the children and the parent's child care responsibilities.
The last factor is the most complex, because it requires the examination of numerous circumstances that are specific to each family. Let's take, for example, a family in which a father gives up a full-time job for a part-time job that would allow him more time with the children. The children are an infant and a toddler, so both spouses agreed that it's best for the children to be raised mostly at home. However, once the couple decides to divorce, the wife feels that it's unfair for her to to be responsible for most of the child support when the husband has an advanced degree, and was earning a lucrative salary at his previous job. In addition to examining the husband's job prospects and earning potential, the court would need to determine what is in the best interests of the children. Since the children are so young, the court may decide that it's best to let the father work part-time and continue taking care of the children. In this case, the court would not impute the father's income to reflect what he would have made had he continued to work full-time at his previous job.
For more information about imputed income, or any other issues related to child support, please speak with the family law attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C. Keep in mind that child support payments can extend well into your child's twenties, and modifications to an existing support order requires going back to court. Working with an experienced family law attorney can help protect your interests, while ensuring that your children receive the support that they are entitled to from both parents. Please consider finding out about your rights and legal options during a free initial consultation.