Calculating child support when you don’t have an income

What happens with a child support calculation when you don’t have an income? Unfortunately, many individuals find themselves in this predicament.

You may wonder, how will the Court handle this matter? Will my income be imputed? If so, how will it be imputed? Will the Court issue a bench warrant?

With unemployment rates soaring these days, it’s not uncommon to be ordered to pay child support when you don’t have a job.

Many people who are required to pay child support are let go, sometime due to no fault of their own.

There are a myriad of ways that Courts handle child support cases where one or both parties do not have an income. This is highly dependent on where you live and the general practice in your jurisdiction.

Every state in the United States has its own laws and statutes regarding child support. Despite this, there are some common themes in handling a child support calculation.

Why are you unemployed?

child support calculation no income

The reason for unemployment may have some bearing on a child support calculation. Some reasons are more acceptable than others in the eyes of the Court.

For example, getting fired for a criminal arrest is very different than getting laid off due to a worldwide pandemic.

In preparing for Court, little things do matter. So, if you don’t have an income and are preparing to go to Court for child support, be prepared to explain your situation and what led to your current lack of income.

  • Why don’t you have an income?
  • Did you recently lose your job?
    • Can you provide a termination letter?
  • Are you applying for x jobs a week?
    • Can you provide a list of jobs you’ve applied to and the date you applied?
  • Are you caring for elderly relatives or younger children?
  • Does a medical condition prevent you from working?
  • Were you recently released from jail or prison?
  • Do you have an alcohol or drug addiction?

These factors may affect a child support calculation. Every situation is different. A Court will need to assess your unique unemployment situation before calculating child support.

Voluntary or involuntary unemployment

For child support income purposes, there is a difference between voluntary and involuntary unemployment. If you are unemployed, the Court prefers that it is involuntary, or due to no fault of your own.

For example, you just got out of prison and are on parole. A lot of employers are reluctant to hire a convicted felon. The reality is it may take some time before you find a job. Fortunately, most child support professionals and judges are aware of and understand this difficulty.

Many people are laid off due to no fault of their own. Your employer may be affected by a worldwide pandemic. Or maybe your employer is downsizing. This would be considered involuntary unemployment.

Let’s say, you get laid off due to no fault of your own but then don’t bother to apply for any jobs and go live with your mom and dad for the next several years. What may start out as involuntary unemployment may quickly turn to voluntary unemployment if you don’t try to get a job within a reasonable amount of time.

A typical example of voluntary unemployment is quitting your job before a child support hearing. Unfortunately, this does happen and there is quite a bit of case law on this issue. In New Mexico, you may be imputed at your prior earnings even though you are technically unemployed.

Child support law

child support calculation

Every state has its own laws regarding child support calculation. These laws may consist of case law, statutes, administrative regulations, and rules of procedure. It’s important to learn about your state’s laws prior to a hearing.

How does your state define income for child support purposes?

Child support agencies within your state also have guidelines and policies. Some state court websites have free online worksheet calculations so you can input your income and other variables.

The New Mexico judicial system has a free child support calculator on its website. This will give you an idea of your net child support obligation under the New Mexico support guidelines.

Types of wage imputation

Generally, at least in New Mexico, a Court will not list $0 income on a child support worksheet for a noncustodial parent. This is true even if you do not have income.

In order for a child support calculation to yield a result, some calculators require a minimum combined income between both parties.

Minimum wage imputation

Some states will have a law that says they assume that you are capable of earning at least minimum wage, unless you can show otherwise. New Mexico is one of those states.

In New Mexico, income is imputed as if you are working full-time at minimum wage. Wage tables vary by state, county, and even municipality. For example, working minimum wage in California is different than working minimum wage in New Mexico, which has a low cost of living.

There are some exceptions to a minimum wage imputation.

One major exception is a disability. If you have a disability and receive your income through the Social Security Administration, minimum wage imputation may not apply. Your disability income will normally be your gross income on a child support worksheet.

In New Mexico, you can receive a dollar-for-dollar credit off your child support obligation if your child receives a monthly derivative benefit from the Social Security Administration.

If you are a custodial parent and do not work, you may not be imputed to minimum wage if your child is less than six years old. There is a presumption that non-working parents are at home raising children.

Capable earnings

Sometimes, a Court will consider prior employment income as an indicator of your capable earnings. Several factors go into this, including length of experience, level of education, and reason for unemployment.

Let’s say you have twenty years of experience in the workforce. The Court might assume that it’s going to be easier for you to find work than for someone with one year of experience.

Employment opportunities can be different for someone who has a college degree versus a high school education. Or for someone living in a large city versus a rural setting.

If there is hard evidence of your prior earnings, you may be imputed at the level of your past income. For example, let’s say you made $50,000 last year but are currently unemployed. To a Court, if you made $50k last year, then you are capable of making $50k this year if you look for and find a job.

There are so many factors to consider in a ‘capable earnings’ determination.

De minimus child support

If you have no income, a Court may set de minimus child support and set a hearing to review the matter in the future. This means, setting a small amount to pay each month so you are not building debt and have time to find work.

De minimus child support has become more common, especially during difficult economic periods like a worldwide pandemic.

For some people who cannot find a job or are incapable of working, de minimus child support is better than zero child support.

Final thoughts on child support calculation with no income

There are many factors to consider in a child support calculation. Not all unemployment situations are the same.

If you are currently unemployed and don’t have an income, I hope this article helped in learning about general child support calculations when you don’t have an income.

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide legal advice or suggest a guaranteed outcome as individual situations may vary.

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