Basics of Determining Child Support in Wisconsin

One of the most common issues in divorces and paternity cases is determining child support. Child support generally lasts until the child reaches 18 years of age, or 19 if they are still in high school or an equivalent program. There are a number of factors that are considered when determining child support. Chief among these are the number of children, the amount of time that the children spend with each parent, and the respective incomes of the parent. Thankfully, Wisconsin has established formulas for determining support which courts will generally follow absent special circumstances.

When one party has primary placement , or approximately 245 overnights with the child in a given year, child support is determined using a flat percentage formula as follows:

17% of income for one child
25% of income for two children
29% of income for three children
31% of income for four children
34% of income for five or more children

Under each of these scenarios, the parent that has the child less 92 overnights pays the other parent a set percentage of their gross monthly income. For example, a parent earning $3,000 per month would pay $510 for one child, $750 for two children, $870 for three children, $930 for four children, and $1,020 for five or more children. The same percentages apply regardless of whether the second parent has 0, 20, 65, or 91 overnights in a year. The income of the other parent is generally not relevant in this situation.

While this may seem straight forward, there are special provisions for high and low income payors. For high income payors (those earning $7,000+ in gross monthly income), the percent of support gradually decreases as monthly income increases. The child support obligation remains at 17% for one child on the first $7,000 of monthly income. For monthly income between $7,000 and $12,500, the percentage deceases to 14%. Finally, for monthly income above $12,500, the percentage decreases further to 10%. An individual with one child and gross monthly income of $15,000 would therefore pay monthly child support of $2,210. Similar decreases in percentages apply for situations with additional children. In contrast, child support can be set at a lower percentage of income when the payor has gross monthly income of $1,485 or less.

Besides the primary placement formula, the most common situation is the shared placement formula. This is used in situations where each parent has more than 92 overnights with the child in a given year. This is a slightly more complicated formula that takes into account each parent's income as well as the amount of time each parent spends with the child. Child support is then set based upon these factors. For example, if two parents have equal placement of one child, or 182.5 overnights each, and the parents have respective gross monthly incomes of $2,000 and $3,000, child support would be set at $375/month.

Alternative formulas exist to address different situations and arrangements. Besides the primary placement and shared placement formulas above, different formulas are used for split-placement cases, whereby for example a couple has three children, two of whom live with Parent A and one of whom lives with Parent B, and serial family cases, where a court takes into account a parent's prior child support obligations to another party.

A common issue that comes up is what, exactly, is considered income. The basic answer is that all money received, including but not limited to salary and wages, bonuses, Social Security disability benefits, unemployment insurance, rental income, interest and investment income, and veterans disability pension benefits, is considered income for child support purposes. While it may be tempting for a parent to voluntarily lower their income to reduce their child support obligation, this should be avoided. A court can find that a party is 'shirking' and can impute that party with income, which basically means that the court believes a party should be making more money than they are and thus makes a child support calculation based on this imputed income level. It should also be noted that, since child support is based on gross monthly income, changes to tax withholdings or payroll deductions resulting in a lower net income will not generally alter a child support obligation.

In addition to determining child support, the court will order a party to keep the child on a parent's health insurance plan when applicable. The parents are often ordered to equally share the cost of such insurance on behalf of the child. In such cases, the parent paying child support may have their obligation lowered by one-half the cost of such insurance if the child remains on that parent's plan.

Child support is a common issue in divorce and paternity cases and, while it is generally not the most complicated or contentious part of the divorce, it is important to be properly advised of the different circumstances and considerations when deciding on a child support obligation. If you are going through a divorce or are attempting to receive, increase, decrease, or terminate child support, the experienced attorneys at Hildebrand Law Firm LLC can assist you.