In a divorce involving minor children, one of the issues that the parties and the court are tasked with deciding is the amount of child support. Child support is paid by one parent to the other for the benefit of any children of the marriage. The amount of child support, if any, is determined based on the number of children, each spouse’s income level, and additional factors such as the children’s particular needs and any shared custody arrangements.
The Minnesota Child Support Calculator
Although courts have some flexibility in issuing child support orders, the determination of the amount to be paid is largely numbers-based. Both parents are required to provide information about their income and expenses. Those numbers are fed into a child support calculator that takes into account all of the following:
- Gross income of each parent
- Number of children living with each parent
- Any other child support or alimony payments
- Any disability benefits paid to a child due to a parent’s disability or retirement
- Dental and medical insurance costs
- Cost of child care
- Percentage and amount of parenting time with each parent
Based on the above information, the calculator arrives at the proper child support amount. Although the court is not absolutely required to adhere to this number, judges do not usually stray far from the calculator’s wisdom.
When Is Income Imputed?
Because the child support determination is so heavily based on numbers, there are opportunities for parents to attempt to game the system. In some cases, a parent will go so far as to intentionally reduce their income in order to pay less child support. In other instances, parents will get paid in cash and fail to report some or all of their income to the court.
To combat those instances, Minnesota law requires courts to assume the potential income for a parent who reports that they don’t earn anything. This is also known as imputing income, and it applies when “a parent is voluntarily unemployed, underemployed, employed on a less than full-time basis, or there is no direct evidence of any income.”
A court can impute income for a parent based on that parent’s employment history or their unemployment benefits. Alternatively, the court may simply calculate what the parent would earn if they worked 30 hours per week for minimum wage (federal or state, whichever is higher).
Imputed income is used in place of actual income in the calculation of child support. So a parent may be ordered to make payments despite showing no income on their disclosures to the court. It is important to note, however, that income will not be imputed if a parent gets laid off or otherwise becomes unemployed involuntarily.