How Does “Voluntary Underemployment” Affect Michigan Child Support Obligations?

Voluntary unemployment and alimonyChild support is one of those family law issues that can create a lot of tension between parents because it often feels like an ex-spouse or ex-partner is controlling the money and demanding it for their own sake. There may even be fuel added to that fire if the ex isn’t spending the money on the child like the payor parent thinks they should. Nonetheless, every child needs the support of both parents – emotionally, physically, spiritually, and financially. This means not only working together for parenting time and difficult parenting decisions but also understanding that child support will likely be paid too. But what happens when the payor parent isn’t on the same page and voluntarily takes steps, such as quitting a job or taking a lower-paying job, for the express purpose of reducing his/her existing child support obligation?

According to the Michigan Child Support Formula Manual, child support amounts in Michigan are primarily based on the respective incomes of the parents. Lives and careers can sometimes take unavoidable turns, such as layoffs or a disability, which significantly impact a parent’s ability to pay child support amounts that were based on what they previously earned. When legitimate changes in income occur, child support amounts can be adjusted and reduced accordingly. But when a parent requests a change in child support amounts based on lack of employment or reduced income, Michigan courts will look closely at the circumstances to ensure that the loss of income is not intentional.

“Potential Income”

In situations where a parent is trying to game the system and reduce their child support obligation by deliberately tanking their income, Michigan courts can and will impute income to that parent when calculating the amount of required support. Imputing income means that the court will consider the parent’s income to be what they could be earning, not what they are actually earning.

Specifically, Section 2.01(G) of the Michigan Child Support Formula Manual states that:

When a parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, or has an unexercised ability to earn, income includes the potential income that parent could earn, subject to that parent’s actual ability.

Calculating Imputed Income

If a judge finds that a parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, the court will then make a child support calculation based on what the parent could and should be earning. Determining the amount of potential income used to arrive at a child support payment involves a court review of several factors to determine whether the parent in question has an actual ability to earn and a reasonable likelihood of making the potential income.

According to Section 2.01(G), a judge should consider the following when calculating potential income that parent could earn:

  • Prior employment experience and history, including reasons for any termination or changes in employment.
  • Educational level and any special skills or training.
  • Physical and mental disabilities that may affect a parent’s ability to work, or to obtain or maintain gainful employment.
  • Availability for work.
  • Availability of opportunities to work in the local geographical area.
  • The prevailing wage rates and number of hours of available work in the local geographical area.
  • Diligence exercised in seeking appropriate employment.
  • Evidence that the parent can earn the imputed income.
  • Personal history, including present marital status, current means of support, criminal record, ability to drive, and access to transportation, etc.
  • The presence of the parties’ children in the parent’s home and its impact on that parent’s earnings.
  • Whether there has been a significant reduction in income compared to the period that preceded the filing of the initial complaint or the motion for modification

Contact Kreis Enderle With Your Child Support Questions and Concerns

The attorneys in Kreis Enderle’s Family Law Practice Group understand that nothing matters more to you than the well-being of your children. If you are a parent concerned that your former spouse is trying to avoid their obligation to your child by intentionally reducing their income or engaging in other improper tactics to prejudice you and your child, please contact us today.

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