Many issues can come up during the course of a divorce, one of which is imputation of income. For most people, this is not a common term, although it can be a common problem, so let me explain it.
When two people divorce, one of the considerations is the payment of alimony or spousal support. Alimony typically refers to what parties agree to pay each other under a private agreement. Spousal support typically refers to what the court orders one spouse to pay the other. These terms, however, are often used interchangeably to mean the same thing.
In Virginia, when trying to determine whether alimony or spousal support will be an issue, each spouse must provide proof to each other of their gross incomes from all sources, which is then considered by their attorneys during settlement negotiations or is otherwise submitted to the court at trial. The court looks at the financial means and income of each spouse and weighs the relative need of the spouse seeking support against the relative ability of the other spouse to pay such support in light – with gross income being a significant factor in the consideration, along with the employment history, training and education, ages, and health of each spouse. If the court finds a need and an ability to pay, it will order spousal support.
Imputation of income can be imposed against both the paying spouse and the non-paying spouse, depending on the circumstances, to include:
(1) When the spouse ordered to pay spousal support decides to quit his or her job or takes a lower paying job in an effort to undermine his or her ability to pay support and avoid continuing to pay support. The paying spouse may think, once their support payment is recalculated based on their “new” income, they can simply return to full-time work at their higher income level and “beat the system.” A spouse may also be imputed his or her income from a former job if the spouse is fired from that job due to his or her own misconduct, thereby being the one to cause a decrease in the ability to earn a higher income.
(2) When a spouse asking to be paid support refuses to obtain employment or takes a lower-paying job in order to increase the amount of support they claim to need, or, gets fired from a job due to his or her own misconduct at the job, thereby being the one to cause a decrease in the ability to earn a higher income.
In these instances, the court can (and often does) impute income when determining the proper support amount or deciding whether modification of an existing support amount is proper.
Let’s look at an example of imputation
Let’s say one spouse is an accountant and previously brought in a salary of $75,000, but now has decided to spend the day on the couch, or they willfully reduced their work schedule to part time in order to avoid paying alimony or seek a reduced payment. Or another spouse has decided not to look for work in order to receive a supporting alimony payment. (Note that each spouse is capable of working and not restricted from working. They voluntarily chose not to, thinking it would be to their financial advantage.)
If it is determined that the spouse is capable of working, the judge will look at the spouse’s qualifications, work history and market conditions to then determine a reasonable income that person should be making. In other words, the judge will impute, or assign, a specific earnings amount. The court can then order a spousal support payment based on the imputed income as a matter of fairness or to punish the dishonest spouse. One cannot escape the responsibility of alimony payments or seek to appear unemployable to obtain a higher amount of spousal support by simply choosing to leave their job.
However, as an exception, if circumstances out of their payor’s or recipient spouse’s control cause him or her to lose their job or require a reduction in income, the court may redetermine alimony amounts, or impute a higher income amount to the other spouse. In any case, imputation will not occur without the party in question being heard by the judge.
In addition, the court can also award remedial support to assist with a spouse who is obtaining education and training to improve their earning capacity. That spouse is then expected to sincerely follow through with that training, and then seek gainful and higher-paying employment.
Contact Your Family Law Attorney
Divorce is never easy, and many people have questions, issues or concerns that arise even after the final divorce papers are signed. Imputation is a highly complex issue and best handled in court or by agreement with the input of an experienced family-law attorney. That is why the Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor, P.L.L.C. is here. Attorneys Patricia Tichenor and Camellia Safi specialize in family law and can help guide and advise you before, during and after your divorce proceedings. Contact us today.