Unemployment Affects Alimony & Child Support

In Sanderson v. Sanderson, the South Carolina Court of Appeals recently ruled as to whether the family court abused its discretion in imputing income of $64,000 per year to Husband after he lost his job.   Based on the below discussion the Court concluded that the family court did abuse its discretion in imputing $64,000 annually to Husband.  This issue has been remanded to the family court to come up with a more reasonable figure. 

According to the South Carolina Child Support Guidelines (Guidelines), “[i]n order to impute income to a parent who is unemployed or underemployed, the court should determine the employment potential and probable earnings level of the parent based on that parent’s recent work history, occupational qualifications, and prevailing job opportunities and earning levels in the community.”  S.C. Code Ann. Regs. 114-4720(A)(5)(B) (Supp. 2009). 

Husband earned $95,000 annually at his most recent job.  Additionally, Husband traditionally earned several thousand dollars a year by teaching as an adjunct professor at local colleges.  According to the record, he had earned $82,000 plus teaching pay in 2004 and earned a total income of $66,000 in 1997 and $64,000 in 1994.  The Court noted, however, that when Husband earned $64,000 per year, it was in the field in which job opportunities have significantly decreased.  That earning capacity, even though it may have been accurate a decade earlier, does not clearly translate into a job market in which similar jobs are no longer readily available. 

Husband’s  skill set and education are most suited for work in the manufacturing sector.  He has a good recent work history, but his qualifications, while high, are confined to that specific area.  The evidence in the record regarding Husband testified that he applied for numerous positions, including those for which he is over-qualified such as jobs with Home Depot and Lowe’s, and he has been unable to find a job due to potential employers’ fear that Husband would leave the position as soon as a more suitable career opportunity became available.  Husband admitted he had not applied for work at McDonald’s or other comparable establishments because he believed the cost of gas to get to work, when subtracted from his earnings, would not permit him to make his $75 per week child support payment. 

The Court did note that the fact that Husband cannot find any employment is somewhat incredible.