In January 2021, the Michigan Child Support Formula had been updated in a published manual. While this formula remains a primary resource for determining the financial responsibility to one’s children, its imputation of income factors have been adjusted.
Family law attorneys think about imputing income as “pretend income”. It refers to money that a person could be earning, but has chosen to not earn. Those imputed income factors can be found in section 2.01(G) of the Michigan Child Support Formula Manual.
The section states that income to be taken into account is characterized as “potential income,” which is when a parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed.
In addition, the formula maintains that potential (imputed) income should not exceed 40 hours a week, nor include potential overtime or shift premiums. If an individual is employed full-time, which is figured at 35 hours or more per week, imputation of additional income is not appropriate.
A Michigan Court Can Impute Income To a Spouse When Calculating Child Support
There are 11 factors that need to be considered when imputing an individual potential income here in Michigan. These include:
(1) Prior employment experience and history, including reasons for any termination or changes in employment.
(2) Educational level and any special skills or training.
(3) Physical and mental disabilities that may affect a parent’s ability to work, or to obtain or maintain gainful employment.
(4) Availability for work (exclude periods when a parent could not work or seek work, e.g., hospitalization, incarceration, debilitating illness, etc.).
(5) Availability of opportunities to work in the local geographical area.
(6) The prevailing wage rates and number of hours of available work in the local geographical area.
(7) Diligence exercised in seeking appropriate employment.
(8) Evidence that the parent in question is able to earn the imputed income.
(9) Personal history, including present marital status, present means of support, criminal record, ability to drive, and access to transportation, etc.
(10) The presence of the parties’ children in the parent’s home and its impact on that parent’s earnings.
(11) Whether there has been a significant reduction in income compared to the period that preceded the filing of the initial complaint or the motion for modification.
The 2021 updates to our child support formula clarifies these to provide for a more detailed picture of the person’s actual ability to earn a living. It adds earnings history as necessary information.
The court will be assigning an actual number as the person’s “income” and use that number in the child support calculation.
Other factors include literacy, residence, age, and health. Even if a parent won’t readily admit shortcomings in these areas to potential employers, they are required to disclose this information to the court for purposes of child support.
The 2017 Formula looked at an individual’s ability to drive and access transportation. The 2021 manual retains those questions, and includes an inquiry into that parent’s residence.
Recognizing that homelessness, or an unstable residence impacts one’s ability to work is an important step in evening the playing field when calculating child support according to the update.
If a person has imputed income, the court can also consider potential daycare costs (for the children in the case that attend daycare). Some parents specifically choose not to work because daycare costs would exceed their paycheck, and it is important to factor in the expenses they would incur if they were employed.
As the manual reminds its readers, failure to articulate how each factor applies to the imputed income, or state that it is not applicable, runs contrary to Michigan case law. While the modifications to the factors were not extensive, they are significant in several ways.
At the end of the day, judges are given significant latitude in deciding whether or not to impute income to a spouse before applying our Michigan Child Support Formula.
It is always wise to work with an experienced family law attorney for assistance, strategizing and guidance in any family law case.