In family law cases, determining child support and spousal maintenance can be complex, especially when one of the parents was a stay-at-home parent during the marriage. In such situations, Washington law allows the court to "impute" income to a stay-at-home parent for the purpose of calculating child support and spousal maintenance. RCW 26.19.071 is the statute that governs the imputation of income in such cases.
Imputing Income and the Court's Discretion:
Imputing income is the process of attributing or assigning an earning capacity to a parent who is not currently earning or not earning to their full potential. This may occur when one parent voluntarily reduces their income or chooses not to work despite having the ability to do so. Washington courts have the discretion to impute income to either or both parents when calculating child support or spousal maintenance.
RCW 26.19.071 provides the guidelines for imputing income and requires the court to consider several factors when making this determination. These factors may include the parent's work history, education, job skills, health, and the current job market. If the court finds that a parent can work and earn an income, they may impute that income for the purpose of calculating child support or spousal maintenance.
Imputing to Minimum Wage for Stay-at-Home Parents:
When a former stay-at-home parent seeks financial support after separation, they may face challenges in re-entering the job market due to their extended absence from the workforce. In such cases, Washington courts often exercise their discretion and impute income at minimum wage. The rationale behind this is to ensure that the parent contributes at least some income towards supporting themselves and their children.
The court acknowledges that the transition from being a stay-at-home parent to re-entering the workforce can be difficult and may take time. However, imputing income at minimum wage provides a baseline for support calculations while encouraging the parent to actively seek employment or further education to improve their earning capacity.
Promoting Employment of Both Parents:
Washington courts generally prefer both parents to be employed when possible. This preference aligns with the principle that both parents should contribute to the financial well-being of their children. By requiring both parents to work, the court aims to ensure children receive adequate financial support and reduce the burden on a single income.
It is essential to note the court's preference for both parents to be employed is not absolute. In some situations, such as when a parent is unable to work due to a disability or other valid reasons, the court may not impute income. The court will carefully consider individual circumstances before making any determinations.
Knowing Your Rights Regarding Support
Ultimately, the court's goal is to promote the financial independence of both parents and ensure that children receive the support they need to thrive. If you have questions or concerns about imputed income and how it may apply to your specific case, it is advisable to seek guidance from an experienced family law attorney who can provide personalized advice based on your circumstances. Call the experienced legal team at the Law Offices of Magnuson Lowell PS for a free case evaluation.