Calculations of child support and alimony payments are among the most frequently contested parts of any divorce. In simple cases, the lawyers and judges will look each spouse’s income and set support amounts based on current earnings, needs, and overnights with children. However, what happens if one or both of the parties may claim the other party is earning below their reasonable and expected capacity? In such cases, the lawyers and judges have tools to consider imputation of earnings based upon each party’s work history, knowledge, skills, and the current labor market.
In the case of Elrom v. Elrom, the defendant, Elad Elrom, appealed the lower court’s imputed income calculation, since he was currently employed in a full-time job. The Appellate Division disagreed, holding the trial judge had a sound basis for imputing income on potential earning capacity rather than actual income.
Although the defendant in Elrom reported his current earnings at $120,000, for at least three years prior to the divorce he had earned 2 to 3 times that amount, on average. The trial court properly considered:
- Work history and income potential for the occupation
- Education and professional qualifications
- Regional job opportunities and salary ranges
In this case, the trial judge found that Mr. Elrom had accepted a job just prior to the start of the divorce trial that paid much less than he had the potential to earn. The judge concluded that the defendant was underemployed and had no reasonable explanation for accepting such a job given his history and experience. By contrast, Mrs. Elrom, who accepted part-time work at half of her full-time pay, reasonably did so considering childcare.
Both parties relied upon employment experts to demonstrate their respective theories of the case. This is an important tool when the parties can afford it. Otherwise, lawyers and courts may rely upon NJ Department of Labor data for earnings levels of various jobs in the economy.
Ultimately, this case shows that child support and alimony obligations must be met in good faith, and cannot be avoided by taking lower paying jobs, voluntarily working fewer hours, or choosing unemployment. This goes for payor spouses (the ones paying the money) and payees (the ones receiving the money). Neither party is exempt from the NJ public policy requirement of earning up to one’s reasonable capacity, taking child care responsibilities into account.
Child support and alimony payment calculations can present a difficult and complex puzzle during a divorce. Experienced matrimonial attorneys can positively affect negotiations and court outcomes during this long and arduous process. To get started, call the Central Jersey law offices of Hanan M. Isaacs, P.C., at 609-683-7400, or contact us online, for a near-term reduced fee initial consultation. We will listen to your facts, explain the law, and guide you on the best pathways to economic and social justice. Call now. You will be glad you did.