We have all heard the story of the parents who quit their jobs to avoid paying child support or to get an increased amount of child support. Colorado’s child support statute contains safeguards to ensure that both parents are contributing to their children’s support.
If a parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, the court will calculate child support based on that parent’s potential income. This is also referred to as “imputing income” to the parent. In determining a parent’s potential income, the court will look at facts including the parent’s previous work history and pay and educational history. Other facts, including the parent’s ability to obtain daycare, or the need to care for a physically or mentally incapacitated child, will also be considered.
The court will not impute income to a parent when:
The parent is physically or mentally incapacitated;
The parent is caring for a child under the age of 30 months for whom the parents have a joint responsibility; or
For an incarcerated parent sentenced to one year or more.
Underemployment results when a parent is still working, but takes a job that pays less than what the parent is capable of earning. For example, an attorney who quits the practice of law to become a seasonal farm hand is considered underemployed. The court will impute income in this situation as well, based on the parent’s previous earnings.
Additionally, the court will not consider a parent underemployed if:
The employment is temporary and is reasonably intended to result in higher income within the foreseeable future;
The employment is a good-faith career choice that is not intended to deprive the child of support and does not unreasonably reduce the amount of support available to the child; or
The parent is enrolled in an educational program that is reasonably intended to result in a degree within a reasonable period of time that will result in a higher income, as long as it does not unreasonably reduce the amount of support available to the child.
Imputing income is a highly fact-intensive issue that should be discussed with an experienced attorney.