Given that the income of the parties is one of the base factors used in determining child support, it is of great concern and importance to the parties that appropriate figures are used regarding income, especially in situations where a parent may deliberately try to thwart the system and manipulate a child support obligation by reducing, or even foregoing, income. This can be an issue for both custodial and non-custodial parents.
The Court’s Right to Impute Income
The Michigan Child Support Formula Manual addresses this concern by allowing the Court to make certain determinations regarding “Potential Income.” According to Section 2.01(G) of the Michigan Child Support Formula Manual, Courts can make the following determination:
When a parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, or has an unexercised ability to earn, income [for purposes of the child support formula] includes the potential income that a parent could earn, subject to that parent’s actual ability.
In other words, if a parent is deliberately not seeking employment when they have the ability to do so, or takes a part-time or other lower paying job than they otherwise would be able to obtain, the Court can impute income to that parent in an amount equivalent to what he or she could be earning had they not elected to voluntarily reduce or forego income.
There are some limitations on the Courts ability to impute income, however. For example, the Court cannot impute income in excess of a full time job, simply because a parent voluntary chose to stop working overtime.
You can view the Michigan Child Support Formula in its entirety to learn more.
Factors for Determining Whether a Spouse has the Ability to Earn Income
Several factors are included in Section 2.01(G) of the Michigan Child Support Formula Manual to help guide the Court in determining whether the parent has an ability to earn and the likelihood of earning the potential income. Those factors include the following:
(a) Prior employment experience and history, including reasons for any termination or changes in employment;
(b) Educational level and any special skills or training;
(c) Physical and mental disabilities that may affect a parent’s ability to obtain or maintain gainful employment;
(d) Availability for work (exclude periods when a parent could not work or seek work, e.g., hospitalization, incarceration, debilitating illness, etc.);
(e) Availability of opportunities to work in the local geographical area;
(f) The prevailing wage rates in the local geographical area;
(g) Diligence exercised in seeking appropriate employment;
(h) Evidence that the parent in question is able to earn the imputed income;
(i) Personal history, including present marital status and present means of support;
(j) The presence of the parties’ children in the parent’s home and its impact on that parent’s earnings; and
(k) Whether there has been a significant reduction in income compared to the period that preceded the filing of the initial complaint or the motion for modification.