An alimony case involving imputation of income was recently decided by the Florida Court of Appeal in a case captioned Waldera v. Waldera. In this case, the husband and wife were married in 1999. At the time of their marriage, the wife held a bachelor’s degree in accounting. She worked as a fulltime bookkeeper at the husband’s law firm. When their only child was born, the husband and wife agreed that the wife would work part-time and would home school their child. The wife continued to work part time at her husband’s law firm until 2011. After 2011, the wife worked part-time as a bookkeeper for some private clients. In 2015, divorce proceedings were instituted.
In this appeal, the wife argued that the trial judge erred in its imputation of income to her. The Florida Court of Appeal agreed. In reaching its determination, the Court of Appeal pointed out that in order to impute income to a party, the trial judge must find that the party has the ability to earn more income than he or she is currently earning, and that he or she has deliberately refused to be employed at this higher earning capacity. A court must make a finding that a party failed to make his or her best efforts to earn more money. Income cannot be imputed based upon records that are over five years old. Additionally, courts may not impute income to a party that is greater than that party has historically earned, absent special circumstances. The party seeking to impute income must establish the range of salaries that are currently being paid for available employment opportunities in the area, based upon the employee’s qualifications, including their work history, education, and physical restrictions. Finally, a trial court is required to award significant deference to the parties’ decision that a spouse is to stay home in order to care for their children. This is especially so when the parties have established a course of conduct over a period of time.