What Does “Imputing Income” Mean for Child Support And Alimony?

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If you are seeking a divorce in Howard County, Maryland or in the District of Columbia, know that the Maryland divorce court and the DC divorce court will make awards of alimony and child support (if there are children of the marriage). Both will be based on the income of the spouses/parents. Alimony is generally paid by the higher-earning spouse to the lower-earning spouse and may last for years. Child support obligations are generally paid by the non-custodial parent to the other parent which has primary custody of the child/children and will generally last until the child/children turn 18.

For both alimony and child support, the incomes of the spouses/parents are evaluated by the Maryland divorce court and the DC divorce court. However, in some divorces, some spouses/parents may try and lower their obligations for child support and alimony by becoming unemployed or by finding a lower paying job. This is generally called “voluntary impoverishment.” When this happens, a Maryland divorce court or a DC divorce court can apply the legal doctrine of “imputed income.”

The rule of “imputed income” is generally very strict with respect to child support obligations. Maryland and DC divorce courts will not allow a parent to avoid his or her legal obligation to support their child/children because they become “voluntarily impoverished.” Under Maryland case law, a spouse/parent is voluntarily impoverished when three conditions are met:

  1. The person makes a free and conscious choice
  2. Not compelled by factors beyond his or her control
  3. To render himself or herself without adequate resources

In Maryland, this is statutory. See MD Fam. Law, § 12-201(i) and (q). If a Maryland or DC divorce court deems that a parent has become voluntarily impoverished, then the court may “impute” income to that parent for purposes of calculating child support. For example, if one parent earned $95,000 a year over several years, but, following the divorce the parent voluntarily took a job making only $50,000 a year, the court might find voluntary impoverishment. Then, the court can impute the full income that the parent should have been earning – that is $95,000 a year. In this manner, the child support obligations are based on the imputed income, not the lower income that was voluntarily accepted. In Maryland divorce cases, the rules are fairly strict, requiring the Maryland divorce to officially make a finding of voluntary impoverishment before moving on to impute income.

However, for purposes of alimony, the rules are more relaxed. Imputing income is much easier for a dispute involving alimony. The court need not make a specific finding of voluntary impoverishment.

Imputed income is a calculation of “potential income.” Generally, a number of factors are used by divorce courts to determine “potential income” including:

  • Person’s age
  • Physical and behavioral conditions
  • Educational attainment
  • Special training or skills
  • Literacy
  • Residence
  • Occupational qualifications and job skills
  • Employment and earnings history
  • Record of efforts to obtain and retain employment
  • Criminal record and other employment barriers
  • Employment opportunities in the community where the parent lives, including the status of the job market, prevailing earnings levels and the availability of employers willing to hire the person

Maryland and DC Divorce and Family Law Attorneys

For more information, contact the seasoned and experienced Maryland and DC divorce, family law and estate planning attorneys at The Law Offices of Thomas Stahl. We have the experience and expertise you need. We also have proven experience with divorce and family law for Maryland and the District of Columbia. Schedule a consultation today or call us at (410) 696-4326 or (202) 964-7280. We have offices in Columbia, MD and Washington, DC. If you have been searching for experienced DC divorce attorneys near me, call us.

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