Discussion on Properly Imputing Income in Recent Appellate Division Case

In a decision newly issued by the New Jersey Appellate Division, the court covered how income should properly be imputed to a non-paying parent who is unemployed, and reversed a trial court’s flawed calculation of imputed income.

The case in question, Marino v. Marino, involved a couple who married in 1996 and had one child before divorcing in 2009. The mother, the primary custody-holder, requested that the court permit her to relocate to Delaware in 2010, where she had received an offer of a job with a salary higher than the $43,992 she then made, and where her fiancé lived. The court granted the motion, but ordered in the fall of 2011 that both parents submit statements of earnings to enable a recalculation of child support based on the changed circumstances. The court also ordered that the mother provide earnings information from her fiancé, with whom she now shared a child. The court noted that any changes to child support would be retroactive to June of 2011. At that time, the father was obligated to pay $100 weekly in child support. The mother failed to submit any financial information to the court.

In July of 2013, the father filed a motion to compel the mother to submit evidence of her earnings since 2011, as well as those of her fiancé. The court granted the father’s motion, and the mother submitted earnings statements in early 2014 for herself indicating several years of partial or total unemployment, with the last year she earned wages being 2012. That year, she earned $2,655 in wages and $6,681 in unemployment, totaling $9,336. The mother did not submit financial information for her fiancé, stating that she believed it was protected as confidential. The court recalculated the child support due each week to $134, having chosen $9,336 as an imputed income for the mother. The father appealed, objecting to the lack of consideration of financial information for the fiancé, and arguing that $9,336 was not an appropriate imputed income for someone who had previously earned $43,992.

The Appellate Division agreed with the father, reversed the decision to recalculate child support, and returned the issue to the trial court. The Appellate Division noted that imputing income was by no means an exact science and involved court discretion in assessing both the parent’s ability to earn and the current job market. The imputation of income was appropriate, according to the court, where a non-paying spouse was unemployed or underemployed without a good reason for being so. Under rules governing the imputation of income in New Jersey, the court should impute an income based on either: 1) the non-paying parent’s work and earnings history, the qualifications they bring to a job, and the market for workers with that skill set; 2) the most recent wages that the parent earned; or 3) the amount the parent would earn working a full-time minimum-wage job, which in New Jersey would be an hourly rate of $8.25. The Appellate Division ordered the trial court to use these rules in imputing a more appropriate income to the mother, and ordered that the mother disclose her fiancé’s financial information, which should be used to reduce the father’s child support obligation if that income contributed to the support of the formerly-married couple’s child.

If you are seeking determined, compassionate, and trial-ready legal help with your New Jersey custody matter or child support calculation, contact the family law attorneys at Herbert & Weiss for a consultation at (201) 500-2151, with offices conveniently located in Englewood.