Family Matters: Imputation factors receive a facelift under new guide

By Marie E. Matyjaszek

Along with the New Year came the new 2021 Michigan Child Support Formula Manual. 

One of the more substantial changes to the Formula Manual, which should remain in effect for the next four years, is the modification to the imputation factors, which can be found in section 2.01(G). The formula refers to it as “potential income,” which is when “a parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, or has an unexercised ability to earn..., subject to that parent’s actual ability.” I like to call it “pretend money.”

The formula continues to maintain that potential income should not exceed 40 hours a week, nor include potential overtime or shift premiums.  If an individual is employed full-time, which is 35 hours or more per week, imputation is not appropriate.

There are 11 factors that need to be considered when assigning an individual potential income, and include things such as education, job experience, and physical health. The 2021 formula clarifies these to provide for a more detailed picture of the person’s actual ability to earn a living. It adds earnings’ history as necessary information, which makes sense since the court will be assigning an actual number as the person’s “income” and using that in the child support calculation.

The formula also focuses on more socio-economic factors, adding considerations for literacy, residence, age, and health. For obvious reasons, an individual who struggles with literacy will have fewer job opportunities available to him, and many do not freely admit to these types of difficulties. Now that the court will have to inquire, hopefully more people will feel comfortable sharing their literacy level so it can be taken into consideration.

The 2017 Formula Manual looked at an individual’s ability to drive and access transportation, and the 2021 manual retains those questions, as well as adding an inquiry into that parent’s residence. Recognizing that homelessness, or an unstable residence, impacts one’s ability to work is an important step in evening the playing field when calculating child support.

If a person has imputed income, the court can also consider potential daycare costs (for the children in the case). Some parents specifically choose not to work because daycare costs would exceed their paycheck, and it is important to factor in the expenses they would incur if they were employed.

As the manual reminds its readers, failure to articulate how each factor applies to the imputed income, or state that it is inapplicable, is a violation of case law. While the modifications to the factors were not large in number, they will make a substantial difference in recognizing the inequities that exist in society.
The author is an Attorney Referee at the Washtenaw County Friend of the Court; the views expressed in this column are her own. She can be reached at