Afficianadoes of a certain Saturday morning cartoon may remember the villain’s constant refrain, “And I would’ve gotten away with it too, if it hadn’t been for your meddling kids!” With imputed income, any harebrained scheme to shortchange your children on child support will definitely be foiled by Virginia’s divorce or juvenile and domestic relations courts.
Bringing Home the Bacon
During your marriage, you may have been the primary breadwinner, bringing home the bacon (so far, you have two of the five ingredients necessary for a BLT — keep going). If you were stacking high the lettuce (three) before your divorce, most Virginia courts will expect you to keep your ex-tomato (four) in a style to which she was accustomed. You mayo be expected to provide child support, too. (Yup, we went there for the sixth ingredient.)
Suppose you brought home around the lion’s share of the $68,114 that was Virginia’s typical household income in 2016 (according to Department of Numbers, a website about … uh, numbers). Let’s say you were responsible for 3/4ths of it: $51,085.50.
Then you divorced, and learned that the Commonwealth expects you to pay $1,000 a month in spousal support and another $1,213 under Code of Virginia child support guidelines (§ 20-108.2). That’s $2,213 out of your pocket every month to keep your children and ex-wife supported, fed, housed, and so on.
You hit on the idea that, if you made less, she would get less. Your logic (such as we strain to call it) goes something like this:
If I give up my job as a stormwater compliance specialist and take a job at that big-box home improvement store, watering nasturtiums and pachysandras, she will get almost nothing! Sure, I’ll have to become a vegetarian, living on mac and cheese and hush puppies, but she’ll get nothing!
Forgive us for foregoing the Bwaa-haa-haa maniacal laugh. It is, to be blunt, an idiotic idea. You may hate paying spousal support, but don’t your kids deserve decent lives? Do you have a right to deliberately be underemployed just so as to keep them impoverished?
What is Imputed Income?
Virginia is on to your scheming ways, Mister, even without meddlesome kids. Code of Virginia allows a judge to impute your income. This means, whatever you are earning, the judge gets to decide what you are capable of earning. A judge will impute, or infer, what your income should be, not what it is.
You go before the judge and say you now work at a big-box home improvement store, watering the Eastern Goat’s Beard and Threadleaf Coreopsis, making $8 an hour. The judge looks at your work history and sees you made around $4,257 a month as a stormwater compliance specialist.
“What happened?” asks the judge.
“I quit and took a lower-paying job at the big-box home improvement store, watering the Sweet Joe-pye-weed and Heartleaf Ragwort. Now I only make $320 a week.”
“That’s roughly a third of what you once made. Why did you quit?”
Here is where it gets awkward.
If you dare say the truth, “I wanted to screw my ex-wife,” you lose the case.
If you lie and say something inane like, “I wanted to commune with plants, man,” you commit perjury and face steep fines and potential jail time.
And either way, the judge will (correctly) find that you are capable of making much more money, and will calculate child support based on the court-determined figure, not your actual income.
Deliberate Unemployment or Underemployment
Deliberate unemployment or underemployment is a sure way to earn a Virginia judge’s speedy finding of imputed income (and a sure way to lose your case). Underemployment or unemployment with a history, though, is different. If you dedicated yourself to doing social work, or taught in an inner-city school for a meager salary, or took a vow of poverty as a religious calling, no judge is going to impute your income to be far higher than you historically earned.
It is the sudden drop off in income that sets off alarm bells. Be safe; do not deliberately attempt to sell yourself short as a way to reduce your financial responsibility to your children.
What Can You Do Instead?
Yes, you may have been the primary earner, but now that circumstances are changed, your ex-wife can work. In fact, you can petition the court to have her evaluated for her ability to earn income.
Spousal support can be contingent upon her taking classes to become more employable. Eventually it can end when she is self-sufficient.
If she steadily increases her income, the ratio of each contributor’s amount to child support could change, especially if the two of you have joint custody of the kids.
Protect Your Rights – Call The Firm For Men
The sure-fire way to protect yourself is not to end up watering the Narrow-leaf Mountain-mint at the big-box store, but to get a strong Virginia child support attorney to help you negotiate a fair and just child support payment schedule.
For help with child support, imputed income, spousal support and more, call 757-383-9184 or contact us online at The Firm For Men. And try not to over-water the plants.