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Fixed Income Attribution for Child Support

Posted by Stephen McDonough | May 04, 2014 | 0 Comments

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Don’t end up under water because your spouse is hiding income or working below capacity.

Attribution of income is a relatively common issue in Massachusetts child support cases, whether as part of your divorce or a post-divorce modification.  Besides child support cases, attribution of income can also be a factor in alimony cases.  Alimony is also known as spousal support.

Attribution of income occurs when the court makes a finding that a person is capable of working and is either unemployed or underemployed. 

Attribution of income can also be a factor when someone is under-reporting income.

The term underemployed refers to someone capable of work that is earning less money that would be expected.  For example, if an executive earning $225,000.00 decided to become a part-time yoga instructor earning $20,000.00, the court could attribute additional income to this person when determining their child support or spousal support responsibilities.  Income can be attributed to either a recipient or the payor.

If attribution of income becomes a factor in your case, before determining Massachusetts child support or alimony payments, the court will consider a person's employment and earning capacity, including:

  • Education level
  • Training
  • Employment history
  • Person's health
  • Age
  • Number of children and needs of the children if a Massachusetts child support case

This list is not exclusive, meaning the court can consider other factors.

Once the court determines that someone is earning less than he or she could through reasonable effort, the court should consider potential earning capacity rather than a person's actual earnings when making their support order.

These factors were included in the 2009 Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines. The most recent version that became effective on August 1, 2013, added that the availability of employment at the attributed income level must be addressed in attribution of income cases.

Self-Employment and Under-Reported Income

Another situation that could involve issues of income attribution occur when a person is self-employed, and/or under-reporting income.   When someone is self-employed, a review of income and expenses  need to be reviewed in an effort to determine the proper level of income.

When determining support, the amount of gross income available may differ from the gross income set forth on tax returns. This can be due to different deductions and other classifications of expenses.

Fixed Income Attribution: Punitive Measure

When a party intentionally attempts to hide income, the court may attribute income to that party.  Several reported Massachusetts cases have dealt with this situation.  If you enjoy reading cases, you can read Mancuso v. Mancuso, 12 Mass. App. Ct. 973, 974 (1981) as one example of how attribution of income could be applied by a judge in a punitive manner.

One statement that some divorcing people may make to their spouse involves a threat to quit a well-paying position and adopt a lower-paying job as a way to punish their spouse for requesting support. This is a really bad idea.  If you voluntarily leave your employment at $150,000 to start a home pottery business where you earn $18,000 don't be surprised when the court bases any child support or alimony obligations on your higher level of earnings.

Don't Hide Your Income. It's a Bad Idea.

If your divorce case or modification of Massachusetts child support or alimony involves a fixed income attribution income question, it is important to have an experienced Massachusetts divorce lawyer on your side.

No matter what, under-reporting or misrepresenting your income, or intentionally working below your capacity in an effort to reduce support payments is not looked upon favorably. These actions will likely have substantial consequences.

The economy may be improving but many people are making less than what they did a few years ago or are unemployed despite efforts to return to work.  Thus, there are legitimate reasons why a person's income could be lower.

Attribution of income is just one factor that increases the complexity of properly determining the amount of Massachusetts child support or alimony, and why trying to handle things on your own may lead to unfavorable results.

Contact Next Phase Legal for a consultation on your child support or alimony situation.

About the Author

Stephen McDonough

Stephen works closely with clients facing divorce or other family conflict. He is a certified mediator through the Massachusetts Council on Family Mediation, a designation that only about 11% of mediators have obtained. In addition to providing mediation services, Stephen regularly appears in...

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