Obtaining Child Support from an Unemployed or Underemployed Spouse

When a couple with children gets divorced, their personal finances are crucial to determining how much child support should be paid. Typically, the calculation of child support is relatively straightforward. The judge analyzes each parent’s income and assets, applies the Arizona child support guidelines and enters an order specifying the amount the noncustodial parent should pay. But in situations when one spouse is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, the process becomes more complicated.

Courts understand that income varies over time but they are not sympathetic to parents who try to reduce their child support obligations by voluntarily taking lower paying jobs or who quit working altogether. In such cases, Arizona law provides that, “If earnings are reduced as a matter of choice and not for reasonable cause, the court may attribute income to the parent up to his or her earning capacity.” This is known as imputing income.

Income may be imputed in different scenarios. Here are two examples:

  • During marriage, a parent worked as a highly paid executive. After divorce, he or she quits that job to work at a fast-food restaurant. This parent may be deemed voluntarily underemployed.
  • A highly-qualified parent was laid off years ago and refuses to use his or her qualifications to get a job after divorce. This parent may be deemed voluntarily unemployed.

When a judge decides to impute income, the amount depends on the earning capacity of the unemployed or underemployed spouse, their age, education, work history, childcare responsibilities and other factors. Minimum wage is the lowest amount that will be imputed.

The parent charged with child support has the right to present arguments and evidence to counter a finding of underemployment. In addition, a judge may decline to impute income to a parent who:

  • has a physical or mental disability
  • is attending classes or occupational training to develop skills that would allow him or her to earn more
  • has a child with emotional or physical needs that require the parent to be at home
  • is receiving Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) benefits

Of course, imputing income does not assure that the parent has the resources to pay the level of child support required. Considerable enforcement measures may need to be taken to collect the payments due.

At Clark & Schloss Family Law, P.C. in Scottsdale, Arizona, our attorneys are highly experienced in handling all aspects of child support, including the process of imputing income and taking enforcement actions. We will advocate for your rights and to protect your children’s financial security. You can schedule a consultation by calling 602-789-3497 or contacting us online.