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What Is “Imputed Income” for Child Support in Tennessee?

When the parents of a minor child get divorced or cease living together, the law requires both parents to continue financially supporting the child until the child reaches adulthood. Typically, this results in one parent being ordered to pay child support to the other parent. What happens if the parent ordered to pay child support quits his/her job or you believe that he/she is intentionally underemployed to get out of paying child support?  A Murfreesboro child support attorney at Bennett | Michael | Hornsby explains what “imputed income” is as it related to child supportMurfreesboro child support lawyer in Tennessee.

Tennessee Child Support Basics

Tennessee law requires child support to be calculated using the Tennessee Child Support Guidelines. Although numerous factors go into calculating child support, the basic concept involves combining the income of both parents and assigning each parent a percentage of that total monthly income. For example, if one parent earns $4,000 per month and the other parent earns $6,000, the first parent earns 40 percent and the second parent earns 60 percent of the total available income. The Child Support Guidelines then dictate how much of that combined monthly income should be allotted to the child and each parent is required to pay his/her share. For instance, if $2,000 was allocated to the child, one parent would be required to contribute $800 while the other parent contributes $1,200. The Alternative Residential Parent (ARP) usually pays his/her share by paying child support to the Primary Residential Parent (PRP).

How to Handle an Unemployed or Underemployed Parent

The parent ordered to pay child support is the payor while the parent receiving child support is the payee. What happens if the payor is unemployed or appears to be underemployed when calculating child support? Imagine, for example, that while you were married to your spouse, he/she was earning $10,000 per month; however, now that it is time to calculate child support, he/she is suddenly unemployed or has switched to a new job making just $4,000 per month. Unfortunately, this is not an unusual scenario. In fact, courts have developed a way to handle a parent who appears to be trying to avoid or reduce his/her child support obligation. A court may “impute” income to the payor.

What Does It Mean to Impute Income?

When a parent who has a history of gainful employment is suddenly unemployed or is making considerably less than what he/she made in the past, the court will conduct an inquiry to determine if the unemployment or underemployment is “willful.” There is a difference between a parent who was part of a company-wide layoff and a parent who voluntarily quit a job without cause. Likewise, there is a difference between accepting a job paying less than previous positions because the industry is going through a recession and intentionally seeking a low-paying position when higher paying positions are available. If the court concludes that a parent’s unemployment or underemployment is willful, the court may impute income to that parent.

In practical terms, imputing income means attributing income to someone even though they are not currently earning that income. By way of illustration, imagine that you are a licensed electrician and your average monthly income over the past five years was $8,000. Suddenly, you are only making $3,000 per month. The court may decide to “impute” additional income to you and use that amount when calculating your child support obligation. Up to $43,761.00 can be imputed for a male and up to $35,936.00 for a female, based on Tennessee’s full-time year-round workers’ median gross income based upon the 2016 U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. The ability to impute income helps to ensure that a minor child receives the financial support that the child is entitled to from both parents.

Contact a Murfreesboro Child Support Lawyer 

If you have questions or concerns about how child support is calculated when imputed income is used, consult with an experienced Murfreesboro child support lawyer at Bennett | Michael | Hornsby as soon as possible. Contact the team today by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your free appointment.


Dinah Michael