Do you remember the movie “Jerry Maguire”? Even if you don’t remember what the movie was about, you undoubtedly remember the scene where sports agent Jerry Maguire (played by Tom Cruise) is talking on the telephone to his football star client Rod Tidwell (played by Cuba Gooding, Jr.). During their conversation, Jerry asks, “What can I do for you?” Rod’s response: “Show me the money!” The scene culminates with Rod cajoling Jerry into shouting “show me the money” at the top of his lungs.
The point that Rod was trying to impress upon Jerry was that the NFL team could (and should) pay Rod more money to compensate him for his incredible talent. Jerry’s job was to go find the money.
I know what you’re thinking. What does this movie clip have to do with family law?
In many family law cases, child support is an issue. In New York, a parent has an obligation to support his/her child until the child turns 21 years old. A non-custodial parent will be required to pay “a fair and reasonable sum” for child support to the custodial parent as determined by the Court. New York presumes that a certain percentage of a parent’s income is reserved for child support. For example, if there is one child, the non-custodial parent must pay 17% of her adjusted gross income for child support. The more children there are, the higher the percentage.
To determine the amount of child support, the Court applies a statutory formula and calculates the percentage based upon the parent’s gross total income “as should have been or should be reported in the most recent federal income tax return.” This calculation is fairly easy to do when the non-custodial parent has stable employment and her earnings are reported on a W-2.
But what happens when the non-custodial parent is self-employed, or unemployed, or paid “under the table”? How can the Court calculate child support when the non-custodial parent’s income may not be fully reported on an income tax return?
In those circumstances, the Court will essentially say “show me the money” so that it can impute income to the non-custodial parent. It will be up to custodial parent to find the money that the Court could impute to the non-custodial parent. This can be done by proving that the non-custodial parent did not include all of her income on her income tax return, or that she has other resources from which the Court can impute income, such as “money, goods, or services” provided to her by family and friends. Where the non-custodial parent is unemployed, the custodial parent will need to prove what that parent is capable of earning. If he is successful in doing that, then the Court can calculate the non-custodial parent’s child support obligation based on what she could be earning and not on what she is earning.
Imputing income is a sophisticated process and can be difficult to do, and so it would be wise to seek the counsel and advice of a skilled and experienced family law attorney before you attempt that process on your own.