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Divorce Courts May Impute Income to a Custodial Parent if it is in the Best Interest of the Children

In an Orange County divorce of a 15-year marriage, the divorce court awarded custody of two children to mother 95% of the time. During the course of the marriage mother was earning $200,000 annually but was then terminated from her position. She then started her own business.  At the time of the divorce trial she was earning $251 per month. Father was a real estate broker, and his monthly income was calculated at $8,088, which included $483 from his city counsel position, an average of $3,493 per month from his real estate position, and $2,701 and $1,411 from two separate rental properties. The divorce court imputed $13,333 a month to mother’s income despite actual hard earnings of only $251 per month. Father’s Orange County divorce lawyer filed a request that Mother pay him spousal support. The divorce court ordered a spousal support award owed from mother to father of $700 per month.  Father was to pay mother a net of $668 in child support per month after netting it against the spousal support he was to receive. Mother’s Orange County divorce lawyer filed a timely appeal.

The appellate court explained that the effect of imputing income to a custodial parent is to effectively reduce the amount of financial support available for the child and thus may be contrary to the best interest of the children. The Court held that to impute income to a custodial parent there must be a finding that it is in the children’s best interest. The Court determined there was no finding that imputing income to the mother would be in the children’s best interest, but instead that the children would suffer detriment from such harm. Agreeing with Mother’s Orange County divorce lawyer, the court ordered the divorce court’s decision reversed on the basis that it was detrimental to the children to impute income to custodial mother for determining child support obligations.

Additionally, the Court explained that spousal support awards cannot undercut the priority of child support awards and that imputing income for spousal support should be determined on a different basis. The Court of Appeal determined that father was completely self-supporting because he had good health, good assets, two houses free and clear of all financial obligations, and a great career. Thus, the Court determined the spousal support award from mother to father was improper because it undercut the child support order, which takes priority. Thus, agreeing again with Mother’s Orange County divorce attorney, the Court reversed the child and spousal support orders and remanded the case to the divorce court for proceedings consistent with the opinion.

In re Marriage of Ficke (2013) 217 Cal.App.4th 10