If you are familiar with child support, then you know how important proof of the parents’ actual incomes is. That’s because, in most situations, the court will base the amount of support on the parents’ actual current incomes unless there is substantial proof (and a finding from the judge) that a parent is voluntarily avoiding working (or voluntarily avoiding earning what he’s capable of earning.) Those latter two scenarios are called “voluntary unemployment” and “voluntary underemployment,” respectively, and if you think that your child’s parent has engaged in either, it is essential to consult a skilled Maryland family law attorney so that he can assist you in getting a court order that sets support at a fair amount.
The law allows the court, if it finds that a parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, to “impute” income to that parent. Imputing income means that the court calculates child support based, not on the parents’ actual incomes, but on the voluntarily underemployed/unemployed parent’s imputed income and the other parent’s actual income. For example, consider a hypothetical couple where the father was an experienced attorney making $250,000 per year, and the mother was a pediatrician who, during the divorce, voluntarily left her $200,000-per-year practice to become a preschool teacher making $40,000 per year. In that case, the court might set support at the amount consistent with what the guidelines dictate for a supporting parent making $250,000 and the residential parent making $200,000 (or something close to it.)
Sometimes, though, a parent’s low ebb (in terms of income) is not voluntary but is completely beyond his control. When it happens that your ex-spouse experiences an uncontrolled low ebb in his income right around the time of your divorce, does that mean that you are just out of luck? As one recent case from Annapolis demonstrates, the answer clearly is “No, you’re not!”
The parents in that case, L.B. and J.B., separated in 2017 after 12 years of marriage. The couple had four children together. The father was a financial advisor and made an average of $250,000 per year (with a peak of $350,000.) However, the employer terminated the father in late 2018. (As a related note, although the court doesn’t give details about firing, it seems likely the termination was not the father’s fault. We can guess this because, if a parent gets fired as a result of his/her misconduct at work, then that termination can be grounds for asking the court to make a finding of voluntary unemployment and impute income to the fired parent.)
My ex-spouse was not voluntarily unemployed or underemployed. Now what?
After the termination, the father got a job in truck sales that paid $65,000 per year. When the court rendered its decision in the divorce, the judge found that the father was not voluntarily underemployed and used the $65,000 figure to calculate child support. However, just a few weeks after the judge finalized the divorce, the father landed a new job. Unlike the truck sales job, this one was in the financial services industry which, as the appeals court noted, was a field “where he previously had earned an income five times the $65,000 per year that served as the basis for the court’s” support ruling. That new job, according to the appeals court’s decision, created a potential for a “return to the compensation level of his previous job, and to alter dramatically” the correct calculation of support.
When a change of that financial magnitude happens that soon after your divorce, you can (as the mother did here) obtain an order from the trial judge that allows the divorce case to be reopened and that allows you to submit new evidence of your ex-spouse’s current (higher) income. Armed with that additional evidence, it is possible that the revised support amount will be a much more helpful one.
Whether or not your ex-spouse gets a massive upgrade in terms of salary just weeks after your divorce, your child support case can present many potentially complicated factual and legal issues. Make sure you have the skilled legal representation you need. The experienced Maryland family law attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC are here to offer you the thoughtful advice and aggressive advocacy you and your case deserve. To learn more about how you can put the power of this office to work for you, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.