If there is no reliable evidence of a parent’s income, the court will calculate that parent’s income by taking into account the specific circumstances of the parent to the extent known, including such factors as the parent’s assets, residence, employment and earnings history, job skills, educational attainment, literacy, age, health, criminal record and other employment barriers, and record of seeking work, as well as the local job market, the availability of employers willing to hire the parent, prevailing earnings level in the local community, and other relevant background factors in the case. If the other parent believes that imputed income is too low, that parent may ask the court to further inquire into the income of the parent whose income was imputed. If a parent does request, that parent must provide the court with proof of the other parent’s higher income. O.C.G.A. § 19-6-15(f)(4)(C). Upon considering the evidence, the court may increase, decrease or keep the amount of child support the same based on the court’s findings.
Courts will assign or impute income to a parent if the court finds no reliable evidence of income, unemployment or voluntarily underemployment.
The primary reason that a court may impute income on a parent is when that parent is voluntarily unemployed or voluntarily underemployed. In order to determine whether a parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, a court may look to see if there is a substantial likelihood that the parent could apply his or her education, skills or training to produce income. O.C.G.A. § 19-6-15(f)(4)(D). The specific factors that a court may use to make its decision include, but are not limited to:
- The parent’s past and present unemployment;
- The parent’s education and training;
- Whether unemployment or underemployment for the purpose of pursuing further education or training is appropriate or reasonable and whether this further education will ultimately benefit the child involved;
- The parent’s ownership of valuable assets or resources that seem inappropriate in light of the income claimed by the parent;
- The parent’s health and ability to work;
- The parent’s role as a care taker of a child or seriously ill adult relative.
See O.C.G.A. § 19-6-15(f)(4)(D)(i) et seq. Normally, if a court makes the finding that the parent is able to work or has demonstrated an ability to work in the past which resulted in that parent receiving an income greater than his or her claimed income, the court may impute a higher income on that parent based on his or her demonstrated earning ability.