How does Missouri handle calculating child support when a parent may be unemployed or underemployed?
In Missouri, courts must calculate child support using a worksheet known as “Form 14,” which utilizes the incomes of the parties, less maintenance or other support obligations, to calculate total gross family income. At this point, a chart created by the Missouri Supreme Court indicates the total child support necessary for both parents to supply based on the gross family income, and divides the obligations in proportion to each parent’s share of gross family income. The Form 14 awards credits for payment of health insurance, time the child spends in the physical custody of the paying parent, and other extraordinary expenses. After making these deductions, the Form 14 gives a presumed child support amount (PCSA).
When both parents work, the court typically uses their current gross monthly income, as determined by a W-2 and most recent tax returns. If a parent feels the current income overstates or understates income, that parent has the option of introducing evidence to show that a different income amount should be used by the court.
Missouri law presumes that both parents have a duty to support their child, and consequently, each parent must work to their fullest potential if capable of work.
If a parent happens to be unemployed at the time of a support determination, the court will go through a process called imputation, where it determines through evidence presented of past earnings and education and work history what the unemployed parent could earn if suitably employed. Also, if a parent is alleged to be underemployed, the court will use a similar process of receiving evidence to determine if a parent seems to be intentionally working for less to avoid paying an appropriate sum for child support.
Last week, we discussed a custody holding in S.F.G. v. A.M.G., and that same case also had an interesting holding with regard to imputing child support. In that case, the court ordered mother to pay child support, and it did so by imputing significant income to mother even though at the time of the judgment mother was unemployed and receiving disability payments for the past seven years for a medical condition that caused her to pass out and therefore impeded her ability to work. On appeal, the Eastern District reversed the child support award, finding that no one introduced evidence that showed mother could work to the level imputed by the court, and that without actual evidence the imputation is impermissibly speculative.
The lesson from S.F.G. is that if a parent wants to win an imputation of income case, that parent needs to put into evidence specific proof that a parent can work and for more income than claimed by the allegedly unemployed or underemployed parent.
If you have questions about imputation of income and child support, contact us – we can help.