The DC Court of Appeals in Saxon v. Zirkle, imputed income during the divorce proceedings for voluntary unemployment.
Specifically, the trial court had granted parties absolute divorce while denying Ms. Saxon’s request for alimony and instead imputed income on her for unemployment, awarded the parties joint legal custody of their child, as well as modified Mr. Zirkle’s child-support obligations based on the imputed income.
On appeal, Saxon challenged to the trial court’s decision to impute $24,000 in income to her in determining alimony and child support calculations.
The issue of imputation of income arose during the alimony proceedings. Based on the evidence presented, it was determined that:
- Ms. Saxon had a bachelor’s degree from college; and
- Had two real-estate licenses;
- Had been in the real-estate profession for over twenty-four years; and
- Had earned as much as $189,000 per year as a real-estate agent.
Moreover, Saxon had inquired and was both qualified and able to return to VA school system as a substitute teacher earning a minimum salary of 24K.
Thus, the trial court had determined that Saxon could have earned much more income than she was currently earning either as a teacher or real estate agent, her unemployment since separation was voluntary as she was not diligently seeking employment while qualified to enter the work force.
The trial court imputed 24K on her for the purpose of calculating alimony as well as crediting Zirkle that amount in the child support calculations.
In order to impute income for purposes of child support, the court has to find that the party to whom income was being imputed has voluntarily unemployed or underemployed as a result of bad faith or deliberate effort to suppress income or to avoid or minimize the child support obligation.
The trial court had concluded that Saxon had voluntarily limited her income for purposes of affecting the child-support as well as the alimony calculations.
Imputation of income is rare in alimony and child support calculations unless and until the court uncovers evidence of bad faith or blatant voluntary unemployment for an individual otherwise qualified to earn income.
Here, the professional qualifications, past earnings, potential and present employment opportunity together establish bad faith or voluntary unemployment necessitating imputation of income.