Imputing Income In Georgia Child Support Cases
When child support is at issue during a Georgia divorce, a court will investigate all of the evidence it can find in order to ensure that it is acting in the best interests of the child or children involved. One of the factors in the court’s determination will be the income level of both parents, so that the court can get a clear picture of how much each parent can contribute for support. However, sometimes parents may try to alter the picture of just what they can contribute, so as to avoid a support burden. If you suspect this is the issue in your case, contacting an attorney is a crucial first step.
Guidelines & Deviations
In Georgia, child support is determined generally by the state guidelines, which assign a set amount for each child of the marriage. Other factors will be assessed by the court to determine whether the guideline amount is appropriate, or whether there should be a deviation upward or downward. There are several reasons to deviate that are specified in the law, though it is explicitly stated that the court may deviate in another way as long as it can establish that it is necessary to protect the best interests of the child. Deviations include (but are not limited to):
- High or low income, either in general or compared to the other parent;
- Tax credits, such as earned income tax credit or dependent child tax credit;
- Life insurance or other “health-related” insurance;
- Parenting time (that is, having much more or much less parenting time); and
- “Extraordinary expenses,” which will differ in each case.
Any of these reasons might be enough for a court to stray from the state guidelines’ amount for support. However, the mere existence of these factors is not enough to automatically merit a change, no matter what some parents may try to enter into the record.
When Is Income Imputed?
Showing a low income can be a reason for a family court to deviate from Georgia child support guidelines. However, sometimes the court may suspect that a parent is artificially lowering their income, either by taking a voluntary pay cut or changing to a lower-paying job deliberately. When this is suspected, the court will impute income to the parent – that is, assign an income figure that represents that the parent is making more than they actually are, because they have the capacity to earn that much.
If a court suspects that a parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, they will analyze the parent’s past earning history, tax and other financial records, and whether or not any significant life changes have occurred that would merit that deviation (such as a sudden disability or responsibility like taking care of an ill family member). If not, the court will then impute income to the parent that is more similar to their earning history, reasoning that they would be able to earn that if they put forth a good-faith effort, and not doing so is a conscious choice. Children have a right to support from their parents, and that takes precedence for the court.
Call An Atlanta Child Support Attorney
Child support can be a highly fraught issue in divorce proceedings, because the stakes are so high; children have a right to receive support from their parents, with no exception. If you suspect that your soon-to-be ex-spouse is trying to lessen their support obligation in an inappropriate or unethical manner, calling an Atlanta child support attorney from Buckhead Family Law is a good idea. Contact our office today for personalized attention.