Child Support: Seek Work Orders & Imputed Income

Seek Work Orders & Imputed Income

Within marriages, couples typically work to find a structure of responsibility that works best for both parties. One parent may be primarily tasked with bringing in income, while the other may focus on keeping up the household and raising children, only working part-time or not at all. But other structures are possible: both parents may work full-time, one may be a full- or part-time student, and so on. There are endless combinations.

However, this structure falls apart when divorce occurs. Once a couple decides to get divorced, both parties have a duty to become self-supporting, and be able to contribute to the financial support of their children. But, what if a parent fails to do their part, claiming that they simply don’t have the financial means to do so? Technically, a judge cannot force you to work. However, California family courts have a number of means of compelling parents to fulfill their financial obligations.

Seek Work Orders

When a parent fails to fulfill child support requirements and claims that their job doesn’t pay enough to afford their prescribed child support amount, or they simply can’t find work, the other parent can request that the court issue a seek work order.

Under a seek work order, the court will require the ordered party to apply for jobs, with a minimum of a certain number of jobs per day or week. In the case of the Sacramento County family court system, the seek work order will likely require the parent to register with an employment agency, apply for at least five jobs per week (one job per business day), and periodically submit proof of this process to the courts.

The seek work order can remain in place until a full-time job is secured. During this time, the parent may have to occasionally return to court for hearings, and may be held in contempt of court if they fail to fulfill the requirements of the seek work order.

Imputing Income

If the subject of a seek work order fails to secure a job in a reasonable amount of time, the other parent may ask the court to impute their income. When the court imputes income, this means that the court assumes that a person is making a certain wage, even if they are not.

This imputed income is used to calculate an appropriate child support amount, and the parent is obligated to pay this amount regardless of their employment situation. A typical example of the court imputing income would be a situation where one party made a good income, but quit their job in order to avoid paying support. This can backfire because a judge can order support based on the income that person made before they quit.

In the case of a parent who hasn’t really worked and isn’t making an effort to support themselves, the court can impute income, usually minimum wage, onto that parent. This would reduce the support obligation of the parent who is working.

However, if you believe that the non-paying parent has the skillset necessary to earn a better wage than what they are currently earning, you may request that the court order a “vocational evaluation,” in which an expert will conduct a review of the parent’s educational and work history, look over their resume, and perform vocational testing. Based on the information gathered, the evaluator will write a report which provides an estimate of what the parent’s earning capacity and what jobs are available to a person with those skills and education. This estimate can then be used by the court to calculate a higher imputed income. However, the court can only impute income based on earning capacity if there are jobs available, so be sure any evaluation includes an evaluation of the job market in your area!

Bear in mind, seek work orders and income imputation may also occur when a parent with custody rights requests a child support increase due to employment issues. In some cases, a court will grant the modification, but also issue a seek work order mandating that the parent obtain a job within a certain timeframe, or face having their child support reduced. If the parent struggles to find work, the court may request a vocational evaluation in order to help the parent find employment opportunities.

If you’re a parent wishing to submit a request for a seek work order or imputation of income against your former partner, or you’ve received one of the above and require legal assistance, the family law attorneys of Toeppen & Grevious can help. To learn more, give us a call at 916-400-4516, or send us a message using our site’s contact form.