In Georgia, child support is calculated using Georgia’s Child Support Worksheet. This child support worksheet relies on the monthly income of each parent, along with other information regarding the income and expenses of each parent, to determine the appropriate child support obligation for the non-custodial spouse. However, in the event the non-custodial parent is unemployed or underemployed, an income may be imputed to that spouse for the purposes of calculating child support. For example, if a non-custodial parent is unemployed and has no significant work experience, a court may impute an income of minimum wage on that parent. Alternatively, if the earning potential of an unemployed or underemployed parent can be proven by examining that parent’s work history and prior salary, a higher income may be imputed on that parent.
The rationale behind the imputation of income on non-custodial parents is to ensure that child support is calculated fairly and uniformly, and to deter non-custodial parents from quitting their jobs or seeking lower paying jobs to avoid child support obligations. Although the ultimate aim of this policy is to serve the best interests of the child involved, many child support reform advocates argue that calculating child support based on imputed income instead of actual income is unfair to non-custodial parents because jobs are hard to find. Due to the instability of the current job market, child support reform advocates believe that imputing income to unemployed non-custodial parents traps these parents in a cycles where they are obligated to make child support payments that it is impossible for them to pay.
Child support reform advocates are correct that ordering an unemployed parent to make child support payments, regardless of their ability to pay, is not practical. However, child support is not calculated in a vacuum, without regard to the special circumstances each parent faces. In determining a non-custodial parent’s child support obligation, Georgia courts may consider all of the facts and circumstances or each case, and may apply certain deviations and adjustments to the presumptive child support amount generated by the child support worksheet. Thus, the answer to the above question is yes, imputing income to non-custodial parents can be fair so long as family courts use their discretion to consider all the facts of each individual case.