When determining the appropriate amount of child maintenance or spousal maintenance one spouse must pay to the other, the starting point is always to look at each spouse’s gross annual income, usually their Line 150 income on their Income Tax Returns.
Each spouse has an obligation to take all reasonable steps to become self-sufficient. If one spouse believes that the other spouse could earn more money than what is reported on their tax returns they can ask a judge to “impute” income to that spouse.
The B.C. Court of Appeal in Watts v. Willie (BCCA) 2004 adopted the following guidelines:
1. There is a duty to seek employment in a case where a parent is healthy and there is no reason why the parent cannot work. It is “no answer for a person liable to support a child to say he is unemployed and does not intend to seek work or that his potential to earn income is an irrelevant factor” (Van Gool v. Van Gool (1998), 166 D.L.R. (4th) 528 (B.C.C.A.)).
2. When imputing income on the basis of intentional under-employment, a court must consider what is reasonable under the circumstances. The age, education, experience, skills and health of the parent are factors to be considered in addition to such matters as availability of work, freedom to relocate and other obligations.
3. A parent’s limited work experience and job skills do not justify a failure to pursue employment that does not require significant skills, or employment in which the necessary skills can be learned on the job. While this may mean that job availability will be at the lower end of the wage scale, courts have never sanctioned the refusal of a parent to take reasonable steps to support his or her children simply because the parent cannot obtain interesting or highly paid employment.
4. Persistence in unremunerative employment may entitle the court to impute income.
5. A parent cannot be excused from his or her child support obligations in furtherance of unrealistic or unproductive career aspirations.
6. As a general rule, a parent cannot avoid child support obligations by a self-induced reduction of income.
Deborah A. Todd