Child support is usually awarded based on each of the parents’ income. There is a special formula that judges use to come up with a sufficient amount to properly care for the child. But what happens if your ex-spouse refuses to work? Will you have to come up with their entire living expenses as well as child support?

This can be a nightmare scenario and may require you to pay a disproportionate part of your income to your ex-spouse, which can make it hard for you to survive. What can you do if you’re in that kind of situation? Fortunately, there is a way out. However, you will need a skilled family law attorney to help you.

How Can the Judge Determine a Fair Child Support Payment if Your Ex-Spouse Refuses to Work?

How much child support needs to be paid is based on the Michigan Child Support Formula, the state guidelines for calculating child support. There is actually a handbook for parents on understanding child support. The guidelines are based primarily on two main factors: How many overnights per year does each parent have with the child, and how much does each parent earn. Other factors include cost of health insurance for the child and whether either parent has any other children.

The idea is that both parents contribute to the support of the child and help maintain the kind of standard of living that the child enjoyed before the parents separated. Of course, it’s not always so simple. Living in one home as a couple tends to be much less expensive than living in two separate dwellings, because of sharing the bills or what is known as economies of scale. The cost of running two separate households alone can pose challenges.

And then there is the matter that one of the parents may try to game the system. The parent who has primary custody may refuse to work in order to get more child support. That can cause huge problems for the non-custodial parent.

Of course, it could also happen the other way round, where the parent expected to provide the financial support tries to get out of that obligation by quitting or downgrading their job. That can cause trouble for both parents when attempting to fairly calculate a child support number.

What Can the Judge Do if an Ex-Spouse Tries to Trick the System?

There are quite a few things the judge can do if one of the parents is not working by choice, or is underemployed. The specifics will vary, though, depending on that person’s previous income history, education, and living situation.

If the person used to have a well-paying job and suddenly quits or loses the job, there can be an investigation into the specifics of the situation. The same is true if the hours are cut back drastically or the person takes early retirement. All of these can potentially be seen as signs of something wrong. In these cases a court can look at the person paying child support, the payer’s, income potential.

If the judge agrees that this is indeed a ruse to avoid paying child support, they have an alternative on which to base the child support payments. Instead of basing them on the parent’s actual salary, they can use the payer’s potential income, which means that they can base it on the amount the payer’s income should have been under normal circumstances.

What if the Primary Caregiver Refuses to Work?

The situation can be slightly different if it is the primary caregiver who refuses to work. Primary caregiver meaning the parent with physical custody, or the one receiving child support payments. There are a few additional factors to consider. They can include the age of the children and whether the custodial parent needs to be available to watch the young children all the time. If the custodial parent is not working, and to assume they could work is going to create day care expenses, that may not help you as the payer of child support because you would have to pay your share of the day care expenses.

Still, if the primary caregiver had been staying at home with the children during the marriage, she would need more support than if she had been working. In either case, an investigation into her earning capacity would be appropriate.

This would include whether she had been trained in a profession and whether she had worked in that profession previously. If so, are there jobs available that she could get? And if that’s the case, has she applied to those jobs in a serious manner? If not, she could be ordered to do so.

In addition, the judge would have the option to impute the amount of her potential salary and base the amount of child support on her imputed salary, starting after a few months to give her time to find a job.

What if a Parent Is Getting Paid Under the Table?

There is another possibility: One (or even both) of the parents could do some or all of their work for cash in order to minimize their official income and get more child support in one case or pay less child support in the other. Courts recognize that being paid cash is typically only done for two reasons- to avoid taxes or because of criminal activity.

There are quite a few possibilities where people can get paid in cash. Someone could, for example, cut their official work hours and do odd jobs like lawn care, painting, or running errands for cash.

Cash payments are often made to people in jobs such as child care, personal care, caregiving of people with mobility challenges, cleaning jobs, and more.

So what can you do if you suspect someone is hiding some of their income by being paid cash or trading their services for other services, and doing some sort of bartering?

First, you should work with an experienced child support lawyer to get a sense of your options, and also to see how your concerns about the other parent’s income actually affects the child support calculations. You will not want to spend time and money to fight about someone’s earning potential only to find that their income is not having much affect on the child support numbers, because that can sometimes be the case. You could also hire a private investigator who can dig up evidence that your ex-spouse is working regularly.

The court may even issue a subpoena to the company your ex-spouse works for to prove that they were paid. Similarly, their bank records could also be subpoenaed to find out if there is a history of cash deposits.

It’s easy to see how things can get complicated when an ex-spouse refuses to work in order to game the child support system. To get a fair judgment, you’ll need a skilled child support attorney on your side. We have plenty of experience with cases like the above. Call or email us to arrange a free consultation. We’ll be happy to help you.