Suppression of Income to Reduce or Increase Child Support, Alimony, and Other Financial Obligations
Georgia courts consider each parent’s income when calculating the child support obligations of the “noncustodial” parent in a divorce, child custody, or child support action. In domestic cases, courts consider the income of each spouse or parent in deciding whether one spouse or parent should pay alimony to, or the attorney fees of, the other spouse or parent. Before or during a domestic case, a spouse or parent might intentionally become unemployed or underemployed to reduce or eliminate his or her own income. The goal of the person suppressing his or her own income is to reduce or increase the amount of child support, alimony, or attorney fees that the other spouse or parent will have to pay or receive. Ultimately, the person suppressing his or her income might resume full employment at his or her true earning capacity after the case is closed.
Unfortunately, not everyone is honest. While a person might have legitimate reasons for partial employment, underemployment, or unemployment, the following red flags might warrant further investigation on whether a spouse or parent is suppressing his or her own income:
- The change from full employment to partial employment, underemployment, or unemployment happened just before the filing of, or during, the case.
- The spouse or parent is overly educated or experienced for his or her job.
- The stay-at-home parent never went back to work after all the children entered school.
- The spouse or parent suddenly decided to retire or take a sabbatical from work.
- The spouse or parent claims to have a medical condition or disability that never before interfered with his or her life.
- The spouse or parent lost his or her job, but has not made much effort to find a new job or has many excuses as to why available jobs are not acceptable.
- After graduation from college or graduate school, the spouse has delayed finding a job.
Evidence of a Parent’s or Spouse’s Earning Capacity Versus Current Income
This strategy of suppressing one’s own income to reduce his or her own financial obligation or increase the obligation of the other spouse or parent is common enough that Georgia courts have a way to deal with this problem. In certain circumstances, Georgia courts use evidence of a person’s earning capacity, rather than the person’s gross income, to determine the amount of child support, alimony, and attorney fees to award in domestic cases. Numerous factors must go into a determination of the earning capacity of a spouse or parent, and no single factor is conclusive. To determine earning capacity, a court can consider the following information about the spouse or parent:
- past income,
- level of education,
- specialized training or skill,
- evidence of suppression of income,
- assets and liabilities, and
- other funds available to that person from which the financial obligation may be paid.
If you need an attorney to represent you in a divorce, child custody, or other domestic case, the attorneys of Schklar & Heim, LLC have the knowledge and experience to advise and represent you in such an action.