Every parent has a legal and moral obligation to financially support his or her child. When parties divorce, the court will usually require the noncustodial parent to pay a percentage of his or her net income as child support. What happens, though, when the noncustodial parent’s net income is difficult to calculate or fluctuates from year to year? Or, what happens when the noncustodial parent is unemployed or underemployed?
In some instances, Illinois courts will impute income to the noncustodial spouse. Essentially, the court will, for purposes of calculating the amount of child support owed, assume that the noncustodial parent is making a certain amount of money even if he or she is unemployed or earning less than the stated amount. Illinois courts may impute income where the noncustodial parent (1) is voluntarily unemployed, (2) is attempting to evade a support obligation, or (3) has unreasonably failed to take advantage of an employment opportunity. A common theme running through these circumstances is that the court may impute income where the noncustodial spouse has acted in bad faith.
An example of a parent being voluntarily unemployed occurred in In re Marriage of Adams, 348 Ill. App. 3d 340 (3rd Dist. 2004). In that case, the trial court ordered the father to pay child support. He had previously been employed as a television news helicopter pilot earning $55,000 per year. However, he voluntarily quit his job and moved to Germany where he thought he would have better career opportunities and where his girlfriend lived. The Court found that it was proper to impute income to him based on his prior employment.
An example of a parent attempting to evade a support obligation occurred in In re Marriage of Sweet, 316 Ill. App. 3d 101 (2nd Dist. 2000). In that case, the trial court ordered the father to pay child support. He subsequently began his own pest extermination business, which was not as profitable as his prior employment. The trial court found that he was not acting in good faith where he was more interested in being his own boss and buying a new truck for himself than in supporting his children. Accordingly, the court properly imputed income to him.
An example of a parent failing to take advantage of a business opportunity occurred in In re Marriage of Hubbs, 363 Ill. App. 3d 696 (5th Dist. 2006). In that case, the trial court ordered the father to pay child support. His income for the previous three years had been $133,000; $114,009; and $169,319. He had also rejected an employment opportunity that would have paid him a salary of $120,000 per year. The court properly imputed income to him of $115,000, which was slightly below his average income for the past three years and slightly below the salary he could have earned.
In each of the above instances, the trial court calculated the amount of child support based on the income the noncustodial parent could have earned. Behind every adorable, toothless baby grin is a long list of expenses. Courts try to ensure that one parent does not avoid responsibility for his or her child by purposely reducing or eliminating income as it is unfair and unjust to make one parent shoulder all of the expenses.