What is Imputed Income When Determining Child Support Payments?

Child support payments do not just consider what the paying parent earns but what they should earn to a certain degree. If there is evidence that a parent lowered or ended their income to avoid child support payments, a judge can decide their financial obligations based on what they could reasonably be expected to earn. 

What is Child Support? 

In Pennsylvania, parents must financially support their children until they turn 18 or become self-supporting. The parent with more custodial time is generally entitled to receive child support payments from the noncustodial parent. 

If parents can not agree on a support amount, a judge will do it for them. It will depend on the parents’ incomes and the number of children involved. Income can include: 

  • Social Security payments 
  • Commissions 
  • Bonuses 
  • Pension payments 
  • Retirement savings income 
  • Unemployment compensation 
  • Veteran’s benefits 
  • Rent from properties 

Determining child support obligations can be complicated. Incomes can fluctuate when someone is self-employed, owns a business, or when their earnings are impacted by bonuses or commissions (or lack of them).  

When Does Imputing Income Become Necessary? 

Not all of these paying parents want to pay support or pay as much as they are ordered to pay. They may illegally reduce their income and claim they can not afford to make payments. They may: 

  • Work “under the table” for cash and not declare this income 
  • Quit their job 
  • Take a demotion 
  • Work fewer hours 

When there is credible evidence the parent is intentionally unemployed or underemployed to reduce their support responsibilities, not because of a legitimate issue (disability, layoff, economic downturn), a judge may impute (or attribute) income to them so the child gets adequate support. 

How Does a Judge Decide What a Parent Should Earn? 

Under Pennsylvania law, the judge may impute what their full-time income should be within limits. It can not be more than what would be earned in one full-time job. It also must be based on the parent’s circumstances, including whether they have used substantial good faith efforts to find employment and: 

  • Childcare responsibilities and expenses 
  • Assets 
  • Past employment and earnings 
  • Job skills 
  • Educational level 
  • Literacy 
  • Age 
  • Health (physical and psychological) 
  • Criminal record and other employment barriers 
  • Past efforts seeking work 
  • Local job market 
  • Local prevailing wages 
  • Other relevant factors 

Given all the variables involved, each case is unique. Remember, if you hear of an outcome in another case, it may have no relevance to your situation. 

If you have questions about child support or whether a parent should pay more or less, call Karen Ann Ulmer, P.C., at (215) 752-6200. We represent parties on both sides of this issue and can provide critical legal representation to help you meet your goals.