How Does Willful Underemployment Impact Child Support in South Carolina?

December 9, 2021 | J. Benjamin Stevens | Share:

Child support is often one of the first topics potential clients ask about during a consultation. This isn’t surprising considering that when two parents separate or divorce, their two households must now survive on much less income than they were previously used to before the separation. Whichever parent is more likely to be providing the majority of the care for the minor children will certainly be interested in how much the other parent will be required to contribute so that new budgets can be formulated going forward.

How Child Support is Calculated in South Carolina

In South Carolina, when the family court determines there is a child support obligation, the very first factor it will consider is the combined gross incomes of both parents. You read that right – the court will only consider the gross income, not the net income (i.e., after taxes, payroll deductions, etc.). There will be certain “credits” given to a parent if they provided for such things as health insurance premiums, extraordinary medical expenses, or work-related daycare, but generally speaking, the calculation comes down to how much gross income is generated by the parents together, how many children need to be supported, and how many nights out of the year do the children spend with each parent.

This may tempt some parties to consider “cheating” the system by simply earning less while the family court case is pending to have their child support obligation set at a lower rate, but before you consider this for too long, read on.

How Being Under-Employed Can Hurt You in Family Court

Since the family court uses the parties’ gross incomes as a starting point for calculating child support, both parties are subject to discovery throughout the case about their financial resources and even their employability. If there is evidence presented that one or both parties are willfully unemployed or underemployed, the family court has the authority to impute a reasonable income to that party.

Our appellate courts have emphasized in prior cases that the South Carolina Child Support Guidelines clearly state that before a judge can impute income to a parent who is unemployed or underemployed, the court must look at that person’s employment potential, their work history, qualifications, and available job opportunities. The Court has also ruled that the motivation behind any reduction in income should be considered when deciding whether to impute income


The bottom line is that in South Carolina, family court judges have the ability to impute income to a party based on what he or she could earn if using his or her best efforts to find employment. Our case law goes on to say that in such cases, an award of child support (and/or alimony) is proper, even if it exhausts the unemployed party’s actual income. If you are facing a divorce or other family court case involving child support, be sure to consult with an experienced family court attorney before you consider a change in your employment that may reduce your income or earning potential.


Ben Stevens is a Fellow in the prestigious American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and a Board Certified Family Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. He has provided exceptional legal counsel and support to families throughout South Carolina for a quarter of a century, handling all matters of family law, such as child custody, child support, and divorce. He and his team are well-equipped to handle all family law matters, no matter your circumstances. Contact our office at (864) 598-9172 or to schedule an initial consultation.


Contact our office at (864) 598-9172 or to schedule an initial consultation.



Aggressive, creative, and compassionate are words Ben Stevens' colleagues freely use to describe him as a divorce and family law attorney. Mr. Stevens is a Fellow in the prestigious American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, the International Academy of Family Lawyers, and is a Board Certified Family Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. He is one of only two attorneys in South Carolina with those simultaneous distinctions. He has held numerous leadership positions in the AAML, and he currently serves as one of its National Vice Presidents. Mr. Stevens has a statewide practice and regularly appears all across South Carolina.  His practice is focused on complex divorce and child custody cases.

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