Educational Programs and Imputed Income in Child Support
In matters of child support, there are times where income can be “imputed” to a parent. Imputation means that the Court can attribute an income to the parent that he or she is not actually earning. Imputation can occur if a parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed and could be earning income to support his or her children, but is not doing so.Legal Authority On Underemployment
Colorado Revised Statute § 14-10-115(5)(b)(III) provides that,
For the purposes of this section, a parent is not deemed "underemployed" if:
(A) The employment is temporary and is reasonably intended to result in higher income within the foreseeable future; or
(B) The employment is a good faith career choice that is not intended to deprive a child of support and does not unreasonably reduce the support available to a child; or
(C) The parent is enrolled full-time in an educational or vocational program or is employed part-time while enrolled in a part-time educational or vocational program, based on the institution's enrollment definitions, and the program is reasonably intended to result in a degree or certification within a reasonable period of time; completing the program will result in a higher income; the program is a good faith career choice that is not intended to deprive the child of support; and the parent's participation in the program does not unreasonably reduce the amount of child support available to a child.
Income imputation is not automatic. Unless a parent agrees to an imputation of income, imputation is a matter for a Court to decide. An imputation of income for a parent enrolled in an educational program must be based on the fact that enrollment in the program is (1) not reasonably intended to result in a degree or certification; or (2) not a good faith career choice, or (3) enrollment is intended to deprive the child of support, or (4) enrollment unreasonably reduces the support available to the child.
More than just the fact that support is reduced due to enrollment in a program is needed to establish an “unreasonable” reduction. Public policy leans towards encouraging parents to improve their families’ economic futures through education.Caselaw
The Colorado Court of Appeals reinforced the legal standard in In re Marriage of Connerton and Nevin. 260 P.3d 62, (2010). In this case, the Court evaluated imputed income in the context of enrollment in an educational program by focusing on the fact that Mother began the educational program after spousal maintenance ended, and that at the completion of her educational program one of the children would be more than half past the mid point of child support eligibility years. The Court of Appeals determined that while these evaluations were relevant to reasonableness, the trial court was required to make findings based on the statutory legal standards as listed above.
The Court of Appeals found, “Because the court's only relevant consideration is not sufficient to support its finding regarding the reasonableness of the length of mother's education plan and the court did not make any determination or findings with respect to the other parts of section 14-10-115(5)(b)(III)(C), we remand the case for the court to make such determinations and findings.”
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