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North Carolina Court Considers Whether Income Should Be Imputed to Mother of Small Children

In a recent unpublished opinion of a North Carolina child support decision, a court considered a child support order involving a mother who was voluntarily unemployed. The father had appealed from the lower court’s child support order claiming that the lower court had made a mistake in concluding as a matter of law that only the defendant father owed the obligation to give support to the couple’s minor children and by failing to impute income to the mother who was voluntarily unemployed.

The couple had married in 2003 and divorced in 2015, after having two kids. They had equal physical custody. The mother had more income than the father did, but she didn’t pay support to the father. However, she remarried and got pregnant with another child. She’d been working full time as a registered nurse throughout her pregnancy in 2015, but after her daughter was born in 2015, she got a new job as a registered nurse and worked three shifts each week. When she became pregnant with twins, the pregnancy was considered high-risk and she stopped working. The babies were born five weeks premature and she didn’t go back to work as a nurse.

The county Child Support Enforcement Agency brought an action on behalf of the mother asking for child support from the father. The lower court deviated from the state child support guidelines and ordered the father to pay child support each month and provide health insurance coverage for the former couple’s two kids. He also had to pay arrears. The lower court found the mother had no income and no support obligation. It didn’t find the mother had acted in bad faith.

The father appealed. He argued that the lower court should have imputed income to the mother and argued that the lower court shouldn’t have discretion not to impute income to a parent who’s voluntarily unemployed.

The appellate court explained that the state Supreme Court has found both parents owe a duty to provide financial support for their kids. The child support guidelines are based on the idea of child support as shared obligations. However, it reasoned that child support duties are determined by actual income. Imputing income is only appropriate where the lower court finds a parent deliberately depressed his or her earning ability or otherwise acted in disregard of its duty to give a child reasonable support. It is necessary, in other words, to show that a parent depressed her income in bad faith in order to impute income. There has to be enough evidence of intent to make this finding.

In this case, the lower court had rejected the father’s conclusion the mother acted in bad faith. The father argued that proof was forwarded at trial that the mother had chosen to stay home. The appellate court disagreed. The mother had stopped working because she had a high-risk pregnancy and remained a full-time stay at home mom caring for her three youngest kids and caring for her children shared with the father on a half-time basis. There was no evidence shown of bad faith. The lower court’s order was affirmed.

If you are worried about your North Carolina child support dispute with your soon-to-be ex-spouse, you should consult skillful family law attorneys. Contact the Woodruff Family Law Group at 336.272.9122 or via our online form.

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