Voluntary Impoverishment

Our Maryland family law attorneys have experiences cases in which some parents voluntarily decide to live in poverty in order to avoid child support or alimony payments. Nevertheless, he or she is still obligated to pay child support.

Under these circumstances, the parent’s support obligations will be calculated based on potential income, unless the parent is unable to work because of a physical or mental disability or is caring for a child under 2 years old and has joint responsibility with the other parent.

A parent’s voluntarily impoverishment is determined by:

  • The parent’s current physical condition
  • The parent’s level of education
  • The proximity in time between the divorce and the change in employment or financial circumstance
  • The parties’ relationship prior to the divorce proceedings
  • The amount of effort by the parent to find new employment
  • Whether the parent has tried to obtain retraining
  • Whether the parent has withheld support before
  • The parent’s prior work history
  • The status of the job market where the parent resides

Note that a parent can be found to have voluntarily impoverished him or herself even if he or she has never been employed and continues to remain unemployed after having children.

Once a parent is determined to be voluntarily impoverished, the court will attribute a “potential income” to that parent in order to determine appropriate child support. The court will look at:

  • Age of the parent
  • The mental and physical condition of the parent
  • His or her assets
  • His or her educational background, special training, and skills
  • His or her prior earnings
  • His or her efforts to find or retain employment
  • The condition of the job market where the parent lives
  • The parent’s actual income from any source
  • Any other factors relating to the parent’s ability to support his or her child

Though these guidelines are considered valid, they can be changed if it is shown that they will be unfair or inappropriate. In such a case, the court will consider:

  1. The terms of any existing separation or property settlement agreement or court order, such as mortgage payments, marital debts, or college education expense payments.
  2. Other children for whom that parent is providing support and paying expenses.

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