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Calculation of Income When Parent is Voluntarily Underemployed

Law Office of Shelly Jean John May 27, 2024

Raising a child as a single parent is an immense responsibility, one that comes with a unique set of challenges and financial stresses. Whether it's equipping them with the best education, providing a comfortable home, or simply covering the day-to-day expenses, the financial aspect of single parenting can weigh heavily on one's shoulders.  

Child support is designed to facilitate the fair contribution of both parents to the welfare and expenses of raising their children. In California, child support orders are calculated based on the income of both parents, the time each parent spends with the child, and any special needs the child may have. However, complications arise when one parent is not fully contributing to their financial capacity. 

I understand these challenges deeply, not only as a family law attorney but as someone dedicated to helping parents and children get the support they need. I'm Shelly Jean John, and I'm here to guide you through any child support issues in California, including dealing with a parent who is voluntarily underemployed. 

In California, the calculation of a parent's income for child support purposes involves a nuanced understanding of the legal framework designed to provide for the children's basic needs. When a parent is voluntarily underemployed or unemployed, courts have the discretion to impute income to that parent based on their potential and opportunity to work, ensuring that child support calculations reflect a fair estimation of their earning capacity. 

Imputed Income and Voluntary Underemployment  

Imputed income refers to the income a parent should be earning, based on their skills, education, job history, and current job market conditions. This concept furthers the end-goal of fair child support calculations that reflect what each parent could realistically contribute if they were making a genuine effort to utilize their earning potential.  

Imputed income plays an important role in child support calculations in cases where a parent is intentionally earning less than they could — a situation known as voluntary underemployment.  

There is a major difference between voluntary and involuntary unemployment or underemployment, where a parent may have lost their job without fault or is unable to find work that matches their skill set.  

Through voluntary actions, a parent may choose to earn less or not work at all. Voluntary underemployment might include cases where a parent takes a lower-paying job, reduces their work hours, or quits their job altogether, specifically to reduce their child support obligations. The courts treat voluntary unemployment or underemployment very differently than involuntary circumstances.  

How Courts Determine the Amount of Income to Impute 

In California, courts carefully examine various factors to decide how much income to impute to a voluntarily underemployed parent. This process includes looking at the parent's recent work history, qualifications, and the opportunities available in the current job market.

Courts also consider the parent's role in the child's life and whether a deliberate reduction in work hours might be justified to spend more time with the child. The goal is to arrive at a fair estimation of what the parent could be earning and, consequently, what they should be contributing in child support. 

The determination of whether to impute income to a voluntarily underemployed or unemployed parent hinges on several critical factors. Courts aim to assess whether the parent has made a good faith effort to find suitable employment commensurate with their skills, education, and job market availability. Key considerations include: 

  • Historical earnings: Examination of the parent’s previous employment history and income levels provides insight into their earning potential. 

  • Educational background and training: The parent's education and vocational skills are evaluated to determine suitable job opportunities. 

  • Job market conditions: Courts take into account local employment opportunities and whether the parent's unemployment is due to broader economic factors. 

  • Health and age: These personal conditions are essential in assessing a parent's ability to work. 

Providing evidence of actual earning capacity is key to helping the court calculate an appropriate imputed income in these cases. This may involve expert testimony on vocational assessments, job market analyses, and in-depth evaluations of the individual's employability.  

The goal is to establish a realistic and fair estimation of what the parent could earn if they were employed to their full capability. This approach fosters an equitable assessment of both parents' financial responsibilities toward their children in the child support calculations. 

Examples of Adjustments Based on Voluntary Underemployment or Unemployment 

Courts have discretion in adjusting child support orders to reflect the realities of a parent's employment situation. For instance: 

  • Case of increased earning capacity: If a parent has intentionally reduced their working hours or taken a lower-paying job without a valid reason, the court may calculate support based on their previous higher earnings. 

  • Health-related employment changes: Conversely, if a parent becomes voluntarily underemployed due to health issues but demonstrates effort to find suitable employment within their ability, the court might adjust the support order to reflect their current earning capacity rather than imputing higher income unjustly. 

Understanding the principles that guide California courts in these decisions can make all the difference for anyone navigating child support and family law. Providing evidence of genuine efforts to find employment and clarity on one’s earning capacity can significantly influence the outcome of child support calculations. 

Reach out to Attorney Shelly Jean John for Help With Child Support Cases 

With over two decades of experience in family law, I have the knowledge and dedication to help single parents advocate for the financial support their children deserve. I believe in empowering my clients with the information they need to make informed decisions and fighting for their rights every step of the way. 

If you're facing challenges with child support calculations or any other family law matter, I encourage you to reach out. My practice, the Law Office of Shelly Jean John, serves clients throughout San Bernardino and Riverside Counties from our offices located in Ontario and Riverside, California. I'm committed to providing personalized and compassionate legal support to single parents and their families. 

To learn more about how I can assist you or to schedule your consultation, don't hesitate to contact me. Together, we can work towards securing the financial stability your child needs to thrive.