Imputing Income where a Party Leaves their Job due to Depression – Commentary on Culbert v. Culbert

Culbert v. Culbert is a decision about imputed income for support purposes written by Justice Thorburn.In this case, the father resigned from his managerial job earning one hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars in order to become a woodworker earning thirty-three thousand dollars. Income was imputed to him at seventy-five thousand dollars, based on what he could earn working in his field, but not at a managerial level. In rendering its decision the court examined the fathers pre-existing medical conditions including depression, anxiety attacks and type-two diabetes. Justice Thornburn found that father had met the burden of showing that the underemployment was due to his health. The father’s conditions together with the stress of his job and a confrontation with his supervisor rendered him unable to hold that particular job.

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This Post Has 4 Comments
  1. Despite a recipient showing that a support payor is intentionally underemployed, a payor may still avoid or lessen the sought imputation of income if the payor shows that his or her underemployment is due to his or her health.

    Epstein’s Family Law Newsletter states this case is “useful” and an improvement over some recent decisions where the courts have found that the payor must earn as much as possible. However, the case’s usefulness maybe diminished, because of its easily distinguishable facts. In this case the Judge found the payor to have pre-existing medical conditions when he intentionally left his employment. Despite “intentionally” leaving his employment the payor’s depression, anxiety and confrontation with his supervisor made him “incapable” of dealing with the stresses of that particular job. The payor intentionally left a job he was incapable of doing, which might be difficult facts to prove in other cases.

  2. The timing of the resignation is questionable. Courts should consider how long the father was able to work under these alleged “stressful conditions”. If he had done so for years, but remained employed, then his resignation amounts to being intentionally under-employed. Even if his position with that particular employer was acrimonious there is no reason that he could not obtain similar employment with another company and earn a similar income. There is no evidence his heath issues preclude him from working in his field. Income should be imputed to him.

  3. It is very important that when we are dealing with medical conditions, specially in relation to a parties income, we need to examine the specific medical condition, how long has it been in existence and how the affects the payors ability to work. We also need medical documentation to support this claim. There are many people who have medical conditions; however it does not specially affect their ability to work. For example, there is a large portion of people in our society that have been diagnosed with depression, but it does not affect their ability to work. With respect to the case at hand, I have to question why the father intentionally left his position and the timing of his resignation. Also if he was having issues with his supervisor, who is to say that he will not have the same issues in his next position? If stress with the supervisor was an issue, perhaps he could have found similar work elsewhere.

  4. One issue that was not canvassed in this decision, but may affect a case with similar facts, is whether the father ought to have sued his employer for constructive dismissal. If an employee leaves their job due to the behaviour of their employer then they can start an action against their employer for breach of contract. If the father is constructively dismissed then he should first go after the employer for compensation for loss of income. If the father left his job because of the work conditions and their effect on his mental health, then he should bring a claim for constructive dismissal to corroborate his story. The court should not so readily accept that the father had to leave his job without expecting him to do everything in his power to remedy the situation.

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