In Washington, as in other states, the family law courts order child support payments based (at least in part) on the parents' income levels. This means that whether you are seeking support payments or you are the one who has to pay, your income will play a direct role.
But what happens if you're self-employed and haven't kept accurate records of your earnings and expenses? What happens if you recently became unemployed? Or what if you took a part-time, lesser-paying job?
In these types of situations, the Washington courts may "impute" income to you, essentially deciding what you could or should be earning. Here are three important things to know about imputed income and its effect on child support orders:
1. The court will look at your employment history.
As WashingtonLawHelp.org points out, the court will make note of how much money you would theoretically earn working at the rate of pay you're historically used to receiving. If you have spent the majority of your career as a corporate executive, the court will likely impute a much higher income to you than if you've worked minimum-wage jobs all your life.
2. The court will assume you could be working full-time.
Even if you only have a part-time job, the court will expect you to pay the same amount as you would if you were working full-time.
The exception to this is if you can prove that a disability prevents you from working. Typically, showing that you receive Social Security Disability benefits or getting a statement from your doctor is a good way to prove that your physical or mental condition prevents you from working full-time.
3. The court may say you're voluntarily unemployed even if you're caring for children or attending college.
You may know that it's critical to stay home with your kids or complete your degree, but the court doesn't always see it that way. It will often assume that you should be working full-time instead of attending classes, unless you can prove otherwise. Likewise, it will assume that you could put your kids in daycare and go back to work full-time unless you can show you have a child with special needs, for instance.
To learn more about imputed income and how it may affect your child support case, talk with a lawyer skilled in this area of family law.