Many divorcing parents in Florida who have children are typically aware that there will most likely be a child support order issued by the court at some point in time. Most parents want to properly support their children and comply with the state’s law for doing so. There are, however, times when a parent unwisely decides to stop working with the hope of escaping a child support order.

The amount of child support a court will order is based on guidelines defined under Florida law. Among other factors, the child support guidelines require consideration of both parents’ income. But what happens if one parent does not work?

When a court has power to impute income

Section 61.30 of the Florida statute explains how an unemployed parent, or even an underemployed parent, may not be off the hook for child support. The court has the power to impute income to that parent. Generally, imputation occurs if the court determines that the parent is willfully unemployed or underemployed. If the parent is physically or mentally unable to work, there will be no imputed income.

The court must then determine the probably earnings level of the parent based on the following:

  • Parent’s occupational qualifications
  • Type of work the parent performed recently
  • General earnings level in the area

If a parent does not cooperate in the accumulation of the facts needed to determine the probable earnings level of that parent, the court may impute an amount equal to the median income of full time employed people in the United States.

A court can refrain from imputing income to a parent if it determines that the parent should be staying home with the child that is the subject to the child support issue.

When a court may impute a higher income than the U.S. median

However, the court can also deviate upward from the median income figure of full time employed people under certain conditions. The court must not only find the lack of work to be voluntary, but receive sufficient evidentiary support for the requested amount and source of the imputed income.

The party seeking to impute income to the other parent is typically the one to provide that evidence. The party may include evidence that shows what work the party would be qualified to do by virtue of the following:

  • The party’s education
  • The party’s experience
  • Any current licensing the party has

The court will also consider the geographic location and other relevant factors.