Wouldn’t we all like to not have to work? While for most of us that is a daydream, for some women it is a conscious strategy in a divorce. The “logic” your ex-wife uses is, with no visible income, she will require you to provide spousal support, so that she (and potentially your children) can continue to live as they did before the divorce. Your attorney will ask the judge to make an imputation of income. Imputed income is an amount attributed or credited to a person that more accurately reflects her earning power than her actual income.
I Impute, She Imputes, They Impute: Imputation Defined
The word “impute” is a bit odd and rare outside of the law, but imputing simply means to attribute or assign something to a particular person. As the old spelling bee rules say, we’ll use it in a sentence:
- “The causes of the divorce can be imputed to his ex-wife, who had affairs with two men and a ‘Hawaiian Elvis’-shaped pillow.”
- “The judge imputed her income to be double her declared earnings, because she could have worked full time but did not.”
- “Virginia women who willfully are underemployed often have imputation of income that more fairly represents their real earning power.”
Say you went through veterinary school and became a licensed, practicing equine dentist. Yes, you read that right — a Virginia horse dentist. You decide after a few years your passion has nothing to do with staring into the mouths of horses all day; you want to be a golf ball diver, retrieving golf balls from the many water hazards of Virginia’s many golf courses. You have cut your income from around $80,000 a year as a horse dentist to maybe $45,000 annually as an aquatic ball retriever.
During your divorce, the judge learns you have a valid license to floss and clean horse teeth, and could be making 1.77 times as much money as you are picking up Titleists from the murky depths of the 15th hole at The River Course.
The judge imputes your income at $80,000, not $45,000, and determines you will have to pay spousal and child support as if you were earning $80,000 annually.
Who Does Not Impute?
If, though, you can demonstrate to the court that you took the lesser-paying job as golf ball diver so you could coach your daughter’s softball team, no imputation of income may occur.
The same is true if your wife, who holds a teaching certificate, has not worked in education while raising your children. Though your attorney may claim she neglected her career and harmed her earning ability, her attorney will say she sacrificed her career for the family. Again, the judge is likely not to impute her income based on a teacher’s salary, but on what she actually has as assets.
I Want Her Imputed!
Your attorney can provide evidence that your ex-wife is deliberately staying under-employed or unemployed so as to lower her income, but the judge decides whether to impute or not impute her income.
Evidence of deliberate underemployment may be that, despite having a valuable skill set as a nurse anesthetist (one of the highest paying jobs in the state), your ex-wife chooses to work part-time at Virginia Beach’s King Neptune’s indoor blacklight mini golf instead.
If she is the non-custodial parent and refuses to use her skills as an air traffic controller because she “wants to be available for the children,” the court likely will not accept her lawyer’s argument. She can work at the Grand Slam Car Wash all she wants (even if it is next door to our office … awkward!), but she cannot claim her low income from that job as a reason to need spousal support.
Imputation of Income and Assets
Imputation of income gets complicated only in a few areas. Suppose your ex-wife inherited unimproved land and the two of you, throughout your marriage, paid taxes on it every year but never developed it. She would retain the property since it came to her before the marriage, but a judge could consider it a barren asset, one having value only when it is sold.
A judge could declare your ex-wife has imputed income that includes the land’s value, if she sold it. In other words, while she has the asset, she cannot be considered indigent or in need of spousal support if all she has to do is sell the land for a tidy profit.
The same holds true with other valuables:
- Intellectual property
That Vermeer painting gathering dust on your ex-wife’s wall, or the “Mrs. Winston” diamond necklace she has draped over the nightstand lamp (and valued at $5.8 million) would both be candidates for imputation of income. If she sold either, she would be set for life, and you would be off the hook for spousal support.
Or say your ex-wife invented a new, improved flask tie (who wouldn’t want that?), but failed to promote her invention during your marriage. Surely entire office buildings full of semi-alcoholic cubical denizens thirst for the flask tie!
A judge could agree that her intellectual property has the potential to provide her income. The judge could impute a value to the clever cravat were she to really hustle and flood the market, relieving you of either spousal support or child support. Why, the judge may want a flask tie himself! Makes a great gift!
To counter any moves your ex-wife may make to shield herself from imputation of income, contact the experienced lawyers at The Firm for Men, or call our offices at 757-383-9184. We can help you win the right level of spousal support. If you cannot reach us, try finding us at the 7th hole at King Neptune’s mini golf. We’ll be the ones wearing flask ties.