The Unemployed or Underemployed Parent

Posted January 12, 2018


In Virginia, both parents have a duty to support their children. However, something that happens fairly often in child support cases is that one parent does not work or is underemployed. In situations like this, the Court can often consider the parent’s earning potential rather than their actual income. This is called “imputing income.” The Court will calculate child support as though the parent was earning at their potential level, with the idea being that the parent cannot get out of their duty of support by purposely not working or working only part-time. At the very least, minimum wage will be imputed to a parent who does not have a valid reason for their situation.

As with everything related to children, imputing income to the parent must be in the child’s best interest. Sometimes there do exist special circumstances, such as a child who has special needs and therefore requires extra attention. Situations like this may justify a parent working only part time or not at all. A situation that would not justify unemployment however,  is when a parent is terminated from a job for cause. It is not uncommon for a judge to impute the income that the parent was earning before they were terminated, regardless of whether they have obtained a new position yet.

The bottom line is that the parent asking for income to be imputed has to demonstrate two things: the other parent’s earning potential and that imputing income would be in the child’s best interest.