California Court Discusses Imputed Income in Child Support Cases

Under California law, parents must support their minor children financially. In the context of child custody cases, this often means that the courts will order one parent to pay the other child support. While child support obligations are typically calculated based on each parent’s actual income, in some cases, they will be determined based on a parent’s earning potential. For example, in a recent California child support case, the court imputed income to the father in the amount he earned prior to quitting his job.  If you have questions about your rights and potential obligations with regard to child support, it is smart to confer with a California child support lawyer as soon as possible.

Factual and Procedural Background

It is reported that in December 2019, the mother and the father stipulated to a status-only judgment of dissolution. At the same time, they filed a settlement agreement in which the father agreed to pay the mother $2,500 per month for childcare and child support. The agreement included a report that reflected the monthly wages and salary of the father and the mother as $9,974 and $12,253, respectively. About one month after filing the agreement, the father quit his job. He paid the mother partial child support for two months, then stopped payments entirely.

Allegedly, in June, the father filed an RFO (request for order) in which he claimed he had no income and asked the court to modify his child support obligation. The mother opposed the RFO and requested that the court either continue the current obligation or, alternatively, increase the amount. The court ruled in favor of the mother, ordering the father to pay $2,351 each month in child support plus half of the mother’s childcare expenses. In doing so, it imputed income to the father in the amount he earned prior to leaving his job. The father appealed.

Imputing Income to a Parent in a Child Support Case

On appeal, the trial court’s ruling was affirmed. The court explained that each parent’s actual income should be considered when calculating a child support obligation. Courts have the discretion to consider a parent’s capacity to earn income instead of their actual income, however, as long as doing so is consistent with the child’s best interests, taking into consideration their developmental needs, the amount of time they spend with the parent, and overall welfare.

In the subject case, the court declined to adopt the father’s reasoning that the trial court abused its discretion in imputing income to him because it failed to weigh the totality of the circumstances. In doing so, it noted that the factors the father cited for quitting his job were first raised on appeal, and therefore it declined to consider them. Further, the court stated that the father left stable employment without first determining his alternative prospects, and his children should not be forced to bear the consequences of his decision.

Meet with an Experienced California Family Law Attorney

The California courts take a parent’s ability to pay into consideration when calculating child support obligations, which may be based on imputed rather than actual income. If you intend to seek child support or you were recently served with papers instituting legal action for child support, it is in your best interest to meet with an attorney to discuss your options. The experienced child support attorneys at the Bay Area Family Law Center possess the skills and resources needed to help you seek a good outcome, and if you hire us, we will zealously advocate on your behalf. You can reach us at 925-258-2020 or through the form online to set up a meeting.

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