Alimony and Child Support obligations are two very important concerns for anyone considering divorce or currently involved in divorce proceedings. In some circumstances, the Court may find that you should be making more income than you actually are and may even try to force you to pay higher alimony or child support based off of that higher “imputed” income. This can result in a nightmare scenario where you are put in jail or lose your license for failing to pay child support you can’t afford with money that you don’t have.
Recently in Broga v. Broga, The First District Court of Appeal clarified what is required before a Court can increase your obligations based on this imputed income. First, the Court must find that you are voluntarily earning less than you otherwise could and, secondly as the Court in Broga clarified, the amount you could be earning must be based on the prevailing income earned in your community for the occupational skills that you have. There are two important things to note from the Broga case. First, your past income while a factor for the Court to consider is never sufficient by itself to impute future income. Second, the prevailing income for your occupational skills is limited to your community. In other words, the Court should not consider what someone with your skills might make in another State or even another city and this amount should be established by expert testimony.
Another thing to consider in this field is parties who are self-employed or work for a family business. Though the other party may be able to voluntarily lower their actual income, it should not change what his or her alimony or child support obligation should be. If the other party is claiming a significant decrease in income without any reasonable explanation, you should contact an attorney immediately about the possibility of imputing a higher income level to them. However, most parents want to support their children and, unfortunately, people do lose their jobs or suffer other economic setbacks. Those tragic scenarios can be made even worse by a Judge ordering you to pay child support at an amount you can no longer actually afford. Remember that if the other party is seeking to impute income, they must present expert testimony. That usually means an evaluation by a vocational expert to determine what someone with your skills could reasonably be expected to earn in your community. Also remember that if the other party hires a vocational expert, that expert works for them and is paid for by them. It is very important to examine the conclusions and findings of an adverse expert to ensure that they are accurate and fair. Often incomes are reported as ranges and the vocational expert may choose to over or under estimate the range depending on whom they are working for. If you are facing the possibility of paying alimony or child support or seeking alimony and child support payments from someone else or are already making alimony and child support payments, contact an attorney from Ellis and Bryant, P.A. at 904-551-4120 to discuss income imputation and other important concerns.