California Court Refuses to Reduce Father’s Child Support Obligation

army-of-dollars-1-1149867-m.jpgAs a couple navigates the divorce process, there are many important issues to sort through, such as child custody, support, and the division of property. It is not surprising that couples often fail to see “eye to eye” on every matter, especially when it comes to financial responsibilities. When one spouse is obligated to pay child support, there may be some dispute over the monthly amount awarded by the court. Fortunately, however, state law regulates the issue of child support. The California Family Code provides a statewide uniform guideline for courts to use when determining the amount of child support. The application of this complex legal formula to a dispute can dramatically affect the family’s financial future. For this reason alone, it is imperative that you reach out to an experienced family law attorney from the San Diego area, someone who has full knowledge of the local laws and how they could affect your case.

Under California law, child support is based on each parent’s income and custodial time with the child. In some cases, spouses have attempted to conceal income in order to have a lower support payment. In a recent case, In re Marriage of McHugh, the father petitioned the court to reduce his child support payments, claiming that he had lost his job as a commissioned salesperson and he earned a great deal less in his new position. The mother responded by seeking an increase in child support, arguing that her husband lost his job because he was attempting to divert business from his employer to his father’s company for the admitted purpose of reducing his income to reduce his child support payments.

Here, the parties were married in 1992, had one child in 1996, and separated in 2009, at which time the father filed for divorce. After several procedural matters involving temporary child and spousal support, the court conducted a hearing at which the father’s former boss testified that the father had asked him to reduce his income because he was going to be involved in a bitter divorce and he wanted to decrease his earnings. His boss offered to give him his job back if he fully disclosed his misconduct and paid restitution. In February 2013, the court denied the father’s request to reduce child support, concluding that his termination from the company was an “unwillingness” to work. The father appealed.

Under section 4058 of the Family Code, a court has discretion to set child support based on a parent’s earning capacity rather than actual income if it finds that the parent has both the ability and opportunity to earn income at the level to be imputed. The court of appeals reviewed the matter, dissecting the applicable statute, and noted that the parent seeking to impute income must show that the other parent has the ability or qualifications to perform a job paying the income to be imputed and the opportunity to get the job. The court found that the father had both. Here, the mother provided undisputed evidence showing that her husband excelled at his job and that the company offered to allow him to keep his employment if he fully disclosed his wrongdoings and paid restitution for the diverted business.

The court also found that substantial evidence supported the inference that the father could have provided the information that the company asked for, but he failed to do so. The court concluded that the evidence supported the trial court’s decision to treat the father’s termination as voluntary and impute income to him at his 2009 earnings level.

This case clearly illustrates the sometimes sordid nature of divorce proceedings. An experienced family law attorney can help to guide the case efficiently through the process with as little strife as possible. Roy M. Doppelt has been representing parties in divorce matters for more than 20 years. Doppelt & Forney serves clients throughout Southern California, including San Diego, Encinitas, La Jolla, and Chula Vista. For a free consultation, contact Doppelt & Forney through our website, or give us a call toll-free at (800) ROY IS IT (769-4748).

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