Lawn-mower seeks to prevent child-support obligation from growing

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Dear John,

My ex-wife wants to change the amount of child support I pay. I have a job that keeps me busy but barely pays the bills. During the summer, I mow lawns to make ends meet. She wants to include this as part of my monthly income. I keep trying to tell her that I have no idea how much I will make, might not be able to do it next year and that it is only for part of the year, anyway. What is right?

Sincerely,

Mower Moe with

No Mo’ Money

Dear Mower,

Children are entitled to support from both of their parents. They are allowed to share in the benefits of their parents’ labor. As such, income from all sources is generally included when calculating support. There are many people whose income fluctuates throughout the year and from season to season. For these people, it is generally better to calculate their income based on an average of their yearly earnings for the past two years.

Unfortunately, this can result in your transfer payment being more than your income would make you pay in some months.

However, it would also have the benefit of making the amount you pay less than you would pay during the months you are mowing lawns. Over the course of a year, it evens itself out.

One important thing to consider is the necessity of documenting all of your income. Some people like to work “under the table,” meaning they don’t get paid through a normal payroll system, or hide some of their income. This is sometimes done to avoid paying taxes. On occasion, it is done for other reasons, such as to decrease the amount of child support. I think most people know that not declaring income to the IRS is illegal. Failing to properly disclose income to the court in a child-support matter is also against the law because all the documents are presented under penalty of perjury. Even if someone gives into the temptation and does not get caught, they are essentially robbing from their children. What kind of message does that send them about how important they are?

You brought up another common concern in your question when you mentioned that you might not be able to mow lawns next summer. There are some individuals who will claim injury or that overtime has suddenly disappeared right around the time child support is being adjusted. This is very common, and the courts have become so used to seeing it that this claim is rejected almost automatically. The court will look at your work history and assume that things will pretty much stay the same or improve. If overtime was available all along, the court assumes that you will continue to be able to work it.

Similarly, claims of injury that suddenly appear are summarily dismissed. This is not to say that a person who is legitimately injured and unable to perform work at the same level as before will not have that considered. However, an injury that occurred several years ago that is now acting up will not carry much weight with the court unless there has been a decrease in productivity since that injury.

I hope this helps,

John

John Hartzell is a practicing Walla Walla attorney. No attorney-client relationship is established via this column, which is for educational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Any information given is to illustrate basic legal concepts and does not state how any court would decide any matter. Have a question? Ask John at askjohn@wwub.com.

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