Learn how child support works and how it’s determined in Wisconsin

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Karp & Iancu’s child support attorneys are experienced to handle even the most complex child support issues in Wisconsin. We know how to get you a fair and just settlement.

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How does child support work?

Child support is the amount of money reasonable and necessary to fulfill a child’s basic support costs such as shelter, food, and clothing.
In Wisconsin, child support is calculated using the parents’ gross (before tax) income from all sources—including bonuses, commissions, tips, etc. Each state has its own rules for calculating child support. Other states may calculate it differently. For example, in Illinois, child support is based upon the parents’ net (after tax) income and also allows for other deductions such as mandatory retirement contributions and health insurance premiums before calculating support.

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5 Steps In the Child Support Process

Step 1: Initiate or Respond to a Support Request. In Wisconsin, the person paying child support or the person receiving child support requests a child support order from the court. In some cases, for example, where a parent is receiving public assistance, the State can initiate a child support order.

If you would like to start receiving child support, or if you have been notified by your child’s other parent or the state that they would like you to start paying child support, contact us.

Step 2: Gather Your Income Information. Often, both parents’ income information is necessary for the proper calculation of child support. Be sure to gather:

  • W-2s
  • 1099s
  • Paystubs
  • Tax returns
  • Any other relevant financial documentation showing proof of income

Step 3: Calculate Your Support Obligation. Many factors can influence your child support payments, but you can actually calculate a rough estimate of your child support obligation on your own. For a more accurate calculation relevant to your particular case, consult with one of our child support attorneys.

Step 4: Enter a Child Support Order. A child support order can be entered by agreement between parents (or the parents and the state) or by the court after a hearing. Once a support order is established, the court will issue a “wage assignment” and the support will be deducted automatically from the paying parent’s paycheck.

Step 5: Notify The Other Parent and Court of Income Changes. It’s imperative for you to continue to inform the other parent and the court of any substantial changes in income and to exchange any documents you are court-ordered to provide. Under circumstances where your income or the other parent’s income may change due to promotions, lay-offs, bonuses, illness or injury, it may be required to modify your support order. In this scenario, you might be ordered to provide annual income information to the other parent—do not fail to do this. If you fail to report income as ordered by the court, consequences can result in legal fines or imprisonment.

If you would like to review your support order or learn if you might be able to adjust your payments, or if you have failed to provide the required income information (or have not received it from the other parent as ordered) we would be happy to meet with you to discuss your options.

Calculating Child Support

How much does child support cost?

Child support is based on three things:

  • the parents’ gross incomes
  • the number of children you have
  • the amount of time the child spends with each parent

What counts as “Gross Income” for child support purposes?

Gross income consists of income and earnings from all sources whether taxable or non-taxable and can be in the form of money, property, or other assets. Gross income includes but is not limited to:

  • Wages, salaries, tips, commissions, and bonuses
  • Interest, capital gains
  • Income supplements or substitutes such as worker’s compensation, unemployment benefits, or personal injury awards
  • Contributions to retirement plans, undistributed corporate income
  • Disability benefits such as Social Security Disability Income or Veterans Disability Benefits

Gross income does not include child support received or public assistance payments such as cash or FoodShare.

What percentage of income do I pay as child support?

Wisconsin child support is based on the following percentage standards :

  • 17% of annual income for 1 child
  • 25% of annual income for 2 children
  • 29% of annual income for 3 children
  • 31% of annual income for 4 children
  • 34% of annual income for 5 or more children

Child Support Calculator

Use this child support calculator to roughly estimate how much you can expect to receive or pay in child support in Wisconsin. Don’t hesitate to contact our experienced child support lawyers in Wisconsin if you have further questions.

How to Make Child Support Payments

Child support is typically paid via wage-assignment or income withholding, which means the child support will be taken directly out of a parent’s paycheck before they receive it.

Sometimes, if you are self-employed or between jobs, paying via wage assignment is not an option and it is necessary to make a direct payment by sending a check to the Trust Fund yourself. In either case, the money should be transferred through the Wisconsin Support Collections Trust Fund (WI SCTF).

You should never issue a child support payment directly to the other parent by way of cash, check, or any other means that circumvents the Trust Fund.

State law requires that the WI SCTF administer, account for, and distribute all child support payments. If you do not make (or receive) payments through the Fund, you may not receive credit for the payments.

Make my child support payment.

Check my child support payment history.

Do you pay taxes on child support?

If you pay child support, you pay taxes on the money you earn that is paid over as child support. This means you earn income, pay child support, but then pay taxes on the full amount you earned before child support is deducted.

If you receive child support, you do not pay taxes on money you receive as child support.

How long are you expected to pay child support?

You must pay child support until your youngest child turns 18 or graduates from high school—whichever comes last. Child support terminates when a child turns 19 (even if he or she is still in high school).

Wisconsin Child Support Guidelines for Joint Custody

Does having a 50-50 shared custody arrangement impact child support owed?

Custody arrangements have no impact on child support; however, placement arrangements can directly impact the amount of child support owed.

Generally, the more often your child sleeps at your house, the less child support you will pay. If your child is overnight with you more than 25 percent of the time, you will receive a proportionate reduction in child support for the amount of time he or she spends overnight with you based upon a specific formula prescribed by statute.

Use this child support calculator to determine what your child support payment might be based upon the number of overnights your child spends with you.

Child Support vs Child Custody

Child support is the amount of money needed to pay a child’s basic support costs.

Child custody describes the right of each parent to make major decisions for the child.

Child placement describes the amount of time the child lives with or visits each parent.

Learn more about the differences between child custody and child placement, here.

Wisconsin Child Support Guidelines for Unmarried Parents

Can you get child support if you’re not married?

Yes. A child is entitled to support whether or not his or her parents are married.

If you are an unmarried custodial parent, you are entitled to receive support for your child. If you are an unmarried non-custodial parent, you are required to pay support for your child.

Consequences of Not Paying Child Support

What is the role of child support enforcement?

Each county in Wisconsin has a local child support enforcement office which functions as a branch of the Wisconsin Child Support Program under the Bureau of Child Support. The child support enforcement office helps parents obtain court orders for financial and medical support and enforces these child support orders so that all court-ordered support is collected and paid-out appropriately.

What do I do if my child’s other parent won’t pay child support?

If your child’s other parent fails to pay court ordered child support, you or the State can bring contempt charges or the district attorney can charge them with criminal nonsupport.

Consequences of failing to pay child support can include:

  • Financial penalization or imprisonment. If you are convicted or in contempt, you may face a fine or go to jail.
  • Tax Intercept. The state will intercept your tax refund and apply it to your outstanding child support arrears, otherwise known as unpaid or overdue child support payments.
  • Child Support Liens. The court can impose a lien on your real estate or vehicles for the amount of any child support arrears.
  • Enforcement Actions. The child support agency can intercept retirement account distributions, personal injury settlements or other such payments due to you.
  • Suspensions. The child support agency can request the suspension of your professional, occupational, drivers and recreational (hunting/fishing) licenses.
  • Seizures. The child support agency can seize your real estate, cars, and bank accounts to pay for arrears.

How do I make sure I am receiving the correct amount of child support?

Generally, the court will order a parent who is paying child support (including parents who are receiving support under the shared-time payer guidelines) to exchange specific financial information on an annual basis so that you can see the other parent’s income and determine whether your support is correct or whether it needs to be adjusted. To determine whether the payments you make or receive are being properly paid or credited, you can contact your local child support agency to request a printout or view payments via your online account.

Do I have to pay child support without a court order?

Every parent has a legal obligation to support their children whether court-ordered or not. However, the court can only enforce orders that have been entered through the Wisconsin Child Support Program. If the State or a parent requests a child support order, those orders typically cannot be retroactive—that is, you cannot be ordered to pay child support prior to the date you were given notice of the child support request.

Child Support Modifications

Valid Reasons for Child Support Adjustments

Does a new child affect child support? Yes.
The more children you have, the more child support you pay. Likewise, if you have children from a prior family for which you pay support and then have children in a subsequent family for which you will owe support, you can usually deduct the amount of support you are paying for the first family before support for the second family will be calculated. This is known as the “serial-family payer formula.”

Does child support increase if your income increases? Not automatically.
Child support is established as a fixed dollar amount. So, if your income changes, you will have to modify the child support amount to reflect your new income. You can do this by agreement with the other parent (if you submit the proper paperwork to the court) or after a hearing by court order.

How do I get out of paying child support? You can’t.
As stated above, there are very severe consequences for failing to pay child support. Every child is entitled to the support of his or her parents. We cannot recommend that you avoid paying child support and we cannot help you evade your child support obligations.

What are the reasons child support would increase? Child support is tied to income and placement.
This means child support will likely increase if you (a) earn more income or (b) start spending less time with your child.

Invalid Reasons for Child Support Adjustments

The court will only modify child support if there has been a “substantial change in circumstances since the last order.”

Therefore, if you request a modification and the court feels there has been no “substantial change” they will not grant the request. This is intended to prevent people from seeking a modification every time their income changes a tiny bit. The court does not want to obstruct its calendar with people who are trying to capture pennies and nickels.

Does signing over parental rights stop child support? No.
Merely giving someone else the right to custody and placement of your child does not relieve your child support obligations. You can only successfully terminate your financial obligations to a child if you terminate your parental rights—that is, you give them up for adoption and a third-party adopts them.

Talk to a Wisconsin Child Support Lawyer

If you’d like to discuss your child support options, contact one of our child support attorneys today.

Related Content About Child Support In Wisconsin

Forgiveness of Child Support Arrears — What you need to know about who can forgive the amount owed
When does Child Support End? — What you need to know about when a parent is no longer is obligated to pay support according to Wisconsin law
Daycare Expenses and Child Support — What you need to know about whether child support covers daycare costs

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Get an equitable child support judgement

For many single parents in Wisconsin, child support payments are a necessity. Child support laws in Wisconsin help regulate who is responsible for paying child support and how much child support should be paid. You need a team of family law attorneys who understand what it takes to get a fair judgement.

With Karp & Iancu by your side, divorce doesn’t have to be devastating or complicated. What drives us is the fair, honest & compassionate representation our clients need during a divorce. The result is 10,000+ cases represented and a growing stack of awards.

No one knows Wisconsin divorce law better.

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