What Is Imputation of Income?
The Utah Court of Appeals decided Christian v. Christian and once again addressed the proper analysis for determining an imputation of income. In that case the wife argued on appeal that the trial court had improperly imputed to her income and asked the court to reverse the trial court’s decision. Although the court did not reverse the trial court’s ruling, it did remand the case back to the trial court to make a new determination based on a proper analysis.
In contested divorce cases a district court may not impute income to a spouse unless after a hearing, the court ‚enters findings of fact as to the evidentiary basis for the imputation. See Utah Code Ann. § 78B-12-203(7)(a). The findings must be based on prescribed statutory factors, including the spouse’s employment potential and probable earnings: If income is imputed to a spouse, the income shall be based upon employment potential and probable earnings as derived from employment opportunities, work history, occupation qualifications, and prevailing earnings for persons of similar backgrounds in the community, or the median earnings for persons in the same occupation in the same geographical area as found in the statistics maintained by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Id. § 78B-12-203(7)(b). The imputation of income analysis involves determining whether the spouse is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed and, if so, how much income ought to be imputed. See Busche v. Busche, 2012 UT App 16, ¶ 13.
A spouse is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed when she intentionally chooses to become unemployed or underemployed. Therefore, the trial court must enter not just a finding of voluntary unemployment or underemployment but specific, detailed findings as to the evidentiary basis for the imputation. See Rayner v. Rayner, 2013 UT App 269, ¶ 10(quoting Utah Code Ann. § 78B-12-203(7)(a)).
The trial court in Christian, imputed a gross monthly income to the wife based on full-time work without addressing her ability to obtain full-time employment. The wife worked part-time at a video-rental store for a period during the marriage and began working part-time as an editor after the couple’s separation. Although the court found that ‚the wife is an able-bodied person capable of working full time, the record contained no evidence that she had ever worked full time. However, the record did contain evidence that she had sought full-time employment without success. Because the record does not clearly indicate that she was voluntarily underemployed, the appellate court remanded the case to the trial district court may so that it could determine if there was an evidentiary basis for the imputation of income.