What is imputing income?

woman holding a little boy

From time to time, the court will impute income in a child support case. This means the judge finds that the amount of income the parent who is paying support is claiming is not a fair reflection of what they could be earning and, to address this, assigns an income to the payer, whether or not he is actually earning this amount of money.

This is permitted by section 19(1)(a) of the Child Support Guidelines, which stipulates in part:

the court may impute such amount of income to a parent or spouse as it considers appropriate in the circumstances, which circumstances include,

  • The parent or spouse is intentionally under-employed or unemployed, other than where the under-employment or unemployment is required by the needs of any child or by the reasonable educational or health needs of the parent or spouse;

(f) the spouse has failed to provide income information when under a legal obligation to do so; . . . .

If the under- or unemployment is found to be intentional and there is no reasonable excuse for it, then the court must determine what is the appropriate amount of income to be imputed. To make this determination, the court will consider the payer’s employment history, age, education, skills, health and available employment opportunities.

For example, if a woman’s former partner works a day job but also works for cash under the table on the weekends, and he does not declare this income in his financial statement, the woman could ask the court to impute this undeclared income for the purpose of calculating child support.

She would need to provide whatever evidence she has about the cash income he earned while they were together along with evidence that he is continuing the same practice now. Perhaps he is a mechanic and fixed people’s cars in the family driveway for cash. She could describe how often he did this work while they were together and, if possible, how much money he made. Maybe he gave her the cash; maybe it paid for renovations to the house or for family vacations or was used to pay down credit card debt. The more detail she can provide, the better.

She also needs to tell the court why she knows or thinks he is still doing this. Have neighbours told her? Does she have photos of him working on cars in the driveway? Have the kids told her how much “extra” money dad has? Is he spending more money than he is earning from his day job? Did he brag to her that she will never get her hands on this income?

Or, perhaps her partner had a secure full-time job working as a welder and, when they separated, he decided to quit that job and go back to school to study art history. Even if he made this decision sincerely and not with the intention of avoiding child support obligations, if the court does not think the decision is reasonable, it can impute income to him. In this case, the woman could provide the court with evidence about employment opportunities for him, and the judge will take these into account when deciding how much income to impute to her former partner.

If the abuser simply fails or refuses to produce financial information, the court can and eventually will proceed without it. In this situation, the more detail the woman is able to provide about her former partner’s employment and income, the more accurately the judge will be able to impute income and determine the amount of child support that should be paid.

There are a number of circumstances in which a court might be able to impute income so women receive an appropriate child support order. Unfortunately, much of the responsibility rests with the woman to gather the evidence and present it to the court.

Further, even if she does get an order based on imputed income, her former partner may evade payment of any or all of his child support, requiring her once again to take responsibility to try to have the support paid.