Years ago, it was the custom for most college graduates to get a job immediately after graduation and to remain working for the same company until retirement. Nowadays, this notion seems to be the exception rather than the rule. Although career change can be exciting, particularly for those who are unhappy or feel stuck in a rut, it can also be a rather daunting endeavor. This can ring particularly true for those who have a child support obligation.
Judges have discretion to impute income to parents in calculating support obligations, both in the initial calculation of a support obligation, as well a later modification of such payments. This essentially means that a judge can determine that a parent who is obligated to make support payments is capable of earning more money than they are currently earning, and can calculate support payments according to ability to earn rather than actual earnings.
In Caplan v. Caplan, the Supreme Court of New Jersey provided a discussion of imputing income in child support cases. The Court pointed out that the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines (which are used by the Courts to calculate child support) “instruct that the trial court must first determine whether the parent has just cause to be voluntarily unemployed.” There are a number of factors the Court may take into consideration in making a determination as to whether a parent is voluntarily unemployed (or underemployed, when that particular individual’s education and experience are taken into consideration). For example, Courts may consider ages of the children and previously discussed plans of one spouse to retire early. The Caplan Court cited one factor that would be of particular relevance to those who have a good-faith reason for seeking a career change is “the reason for and intent behind the voluntary underemployment or unemployment.” For instance, the Court may not likely be particularly sympathetic to the plight of a parent who chose to quit a lucrative career earning in excess of six figures in order to work a minimum wage job merely to dodge or reduce his or her child support obligation. In another often-relied upon child support case, Storey v. Storey, the Court pointed out that those who have a child support obligation and wish to change careers “must establish that the benefits he or she derives from the career change substantially outweigh the disadvantages to the supported [child or children.]”
The Court’s determination of voluntary underemployment is done on a case-by-case basis. If you have a child support obligation and have an honest, good faith reason to seek a career change that has the potential to affect your income, there may be hope to modify your support obligation. Conversely, if your ex-spouse has a child support obligation and you believe he or she changed jobs simply to reduce a support obligation, you may able to compel a Court to impute income to your ex.
For more information, call South Jersey family law firm, Adinolfi & Packman, at 856-428-8334 or contact us online.