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The role of earning potential in support payment cases

On Behalf of | Mar 28, 2024 | Family Law

Among the factors that judges consider when determining support payments in a litigated family law scenario (whether child support or alimony) is each person’s income. Another factor that may have to be considered is earning potential — also known sometimes as “imputed income.”

A person’s earning potential is based on multiple factors such as skills, experience, education, age and the job market.  A person’s earning potential should typically be calculated as close to what they’re actually earning, although there are exceptions to this rule.

What is “sandbagging?”

Unfortunately, some people try to minimize their support payments – or evade them completely – by choosing to be “underemployed.” They may not even try to get a higher-earning job, pass up job offers or, if they’re self-employed, choose to limit how many projects they take on. All of these tactics are known as “sandbagging.”

Generally, it’s the former spouse who realizes their ex is choosing to be underemployed or even unemployed. They bring it to the court’s attention if they’re not getting the support they need – or maybe being required to pay more support than they should have to given their ex’s earning potential.

What can a judge do in these cases?

A judge will typically look at the factors that determine earning potential and compare their earning potential to their actual income. If there’s a significant disparity, that person will likely need to show evidence that they are seeking work that pays closer to what they should be earning. If there’s a reason why they can’t, such as a health condition or other obligations like caring for a sick or elderly loved one, they will likely need to provide evidence of that.

Support issues are among the most serious that former spouses can weather because they can affect their well-being and that of their children. Those on either side of this battle are wise to have experienced legal guidance to make their case effectively.