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What is "imputed income" in a New York divorce?

When couples divorce, the court must determine, among other things, the amount of income that each of the spouses earns or is capable of earning. This calculation is required to determine spousal maintenance, if any, and child support.

The determination of income goes far beyond the salary earned by each spouse. The court must include other amounts, such as social security benefits, veterans benefit, pension benefits and other payments. One of the most important and contentious categories of income is called "imputed income."

Imputed income is intended to recognize and include in the calculation of income benefits received one spouse that may not be paid in cash. In other words, the court is given discretion to include such benefits in calculating the income of the spouses. Imputed income includes non-income producing assets, perquisites of employments, such as meals, lodging, memberships and automobiles, and employment fringe benefits.

One of the most contentious items in the list of imputed income sources is the intentional reduction of income to avoid or reduce a parent's child support obligation. If the court finds that either of the spouses has engaged in such behavior, the court can add (i.e., impute) the missing income to the sources of income available to that spouse for payment of maintenance and child support.

An example was recently provided by a ruling of the Appellate Division that imputed a substantial amount of income to an attorney who had ceased to practice, but maintained her law license, engaged in various professional activities and worked as a mediator and arbitrator. The court also imputed income attributed to the woman's "lavish spending" after the divorce filing that was intended to reduce the marital estate.

The determination of imputed income can become a complex issue in a divorce, especially for high asset couples. Anyone having concerns about the role of imputed income in the calculation of child support or spousal maintenance may wish to seek the advice of an experienced family law attorney.

Source:, "New York Consolidated Laws, Family Court Act - FCT § 413. Parents' duty to support child," accessed on June 27, 2017

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