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The role of “imputed income” in spousal support

On Behalf of | Apr 29, 2024 | Family Law

If you anticipate that you’ll be paying alimony (spousal support) to your spouse following divorce, you may have been looking at the factors that judges consider when determining the amount to be paid and for how long.

These include things like how long the marriage lasted, the age and health of both people and the standard of living the couple had during the marriage. The court also considers the income and assets of both the paying spouse and the recipient spouse. 

Another important factor is the recipient spouse’s “imputed income.” That’s essentially their earning potential. Given their experience, education, skills, how long they’ve been out of the job market (if they have) and what that market looks like for people in their profession, what should they be earning?

Why earning potential matters

Earning potential is important because if someone isn’t making as much as they reasonably could be, their ex shouldn’t have to pay additional support to make up for that. Of course, that assumes that they aren’t able to earn what they could because of family or other obligations.

Imputed income may also be a consideration for spouses ordered to pay spousal support (and/or child support). People have been known to turn down projects if they’re independent contractors or move to a lower-earning job if it means they can pay their ex less and still live comfortably.

Of course, if either party is intentionally remaining “underemployed,” that needs to be brought to the attention of the court. The spouse that’s alleged to be doing that will likely have to provide evidence to the court that they are seriously looking for a higher-paying job or provide some reason why they aren’t achieving their earning potential. 

A judge has the responsibility of helping ensure that the support order remains fair to both sides. Of course, if child support is involved, it’s an especially serious matter if a parent isn’t contributing as much to their support as they can.

Even if a divorcing couple works out their own spousal support agreement, a judge still needs to sign off on it. Further, it’s always subject to modification as one or both parties’ circumstances change. If you believe that your ex isn’t being honest and transparent about their income, it’s wise to seek experienced legal guidance before taking the matter to court. This can help you protect your rights and present a strong case.