When Income Attribution is Appropriate

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In a recent case, Macri v. Macri, the Massachusetts Appeals Court recently cemented a trial court decision to, among other things, attribute income to Husband, who was unemployed at the time of trial. Attribution of income is often a contested topic in the Probate and Family Courts of Massachusetts, and this case provides further guidance on the issue.

In this case, Husband had been employed in the financial sector, often abroad, for over twenty-five years. He voluntarily left his long-time employer soon after the divorce, and was unemployed for two years. He then obtained employment - at a substantially lower salary than what was the norm during the marriage - for a period of three years, after which he voluntarily left that employment. He remained unemployed until the time of the trial at issue in the appeal, when he was 51 years old and in good health.

The court found that Husband had not exercised reasonable efforts to obtain appropriate employment. The judge credited Wife's vocational expert's testimony that Husband could be earning between $440,000 and $475,000 per year based on his experience and qualifications. The judge accordingly attributed that amount of income to him and ordered him to pay $10,000 per month as unallocated support. The Appeals Court affirmed these provisions of the trial court's judgment.

Although the Appeals Court made a point that this case was distinguishable from "voluntary career change" cases, it did note that in all income attribution cases, a court is to consider consideration of the party's specific circumstances, including "a broad list of factors specified in" the Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines. When presenting a case for income attribution, it is critical to establish evidence in accordance with those factors, and to ensure that the court has testimony from a vocational expert that allows the judge to make findings of fact consistent with those factors.

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