Calculating Child Support
The Wisconsin Statutes outline very strict guidelines when calculating the child support a parent will pay. The three primary factors taken into consideration are the number of children, how the parents’ time with the children is divided, and the gross income of each parent. Gross income includes all taxable and non-taxable income which can include tips, wages, capital gains, bonuses, as well as disability, workers’ compensation, or unemployment benefits.
The number of children will greatly affect the amount of support to be paid and the following formula outlines what these amounts are:
- One child: 17 percent of the parent’s annual income
- Two children: 25 percent of the parent’s annual income
- Three children: 29 percent of the parent’s annual income
- Four children: 31 percent of the parent’s annual income
- Five or more children: 34 percent of the parent’s annual income
If you are ordered to pay child support but you spend more than 25 percent of overnights with the child, a judge may reduce the amount of support you are required to pay.
It is also important to know that there are instances in which a judge may deviate from the guidelines. This will only happen when the amount according to the guidelines is unfair either to either parent or the children. For example, if a child has a serious disability that will incur high expenses, the paying parent may have to pay a higher amount of support.
Terminating a Child Support Order
Child support orders are final and legally binding. Even when a parent does not maintain a relationship with their child, they are still legally obligated to pay support if a court has issued an order. The only time a parent can discontinue paying child support is if a judge modifies an order to reflect the termination. In the vast majority of situations, parents must pay child support until the child turns 18 years old, or they graduate from high school. Even when a child is still in high school at the age of 19, child support will be terminated.
Temporary and Permanent Child Support Orders
If you or your spouse has filed for divorce, a family law judge may issue a temporary child support order. Temporary child support orders are only in effect for the duration of the divorce. After the divorce becomes final, the judge will issue a permanent child support order. The person filing for divorce can include a request for child support in their original divorce paperwork.
If you are not married to the child’s other parent, paternity must be established before any child support or custody issues can be resolved. Unmarried men do not have any parental rights until paternity has been established and so, they also do not have a legal obligation to pay child support. Establishing paternity ensures the child will receive financial support from both parents.
How to Modify Child Support
There are times when circumstances change and a parent wants to either lower the amount of the support they pay, or increase the amount they receive.
In these instances, the parent seeking the change must petition the court. To be successful with their case, the parent must also show a substantial change in circumstances. In the majority of cases, a substantial change means the income of a parent has changed. For example, if you became injured and could not perform the high-earning job you once did, you could petition the court and a judge would likely consider your request.
On the other hand, if a parent who pays child support received a raise or otherwise experienced a significant increase in their income, the recipient parent could petition the court to modify the order to increase the amount. It is possible for parents to agree to an increase in child support, but the parent asking for more support usually needs to obtain an order.
Regardless of the change in circumstances, it is important that paying parents continue to make child support payments until a modification has been obtained by the court. Not only will you face many legal penalties, but the unpaid support will continue to accumulate, which means you will ultimately be responsible for paying it. You will also have to pay interest on the unpaid amounts, which you would not have had to do if you had made the payments on time.
Enforcing a Child Support Order
Although child support orders are legally binding, that does not mean that parents always comply with them. In these instances, the other party can petition the court to enforce the original order.
In the majority of cases, a judge will either enter a wage assignment or an income withholding order to enforce child support. These orders allow funds to be deducted from the paying parent’s paycheck. When a parent is unemployed or changes jobs and is briefly unemployed, they must pay the Wisconsin Support Collections Trust Fund directly. Other ways a court may enforce a child support order include:
- Intercepting tax returns
- Intercepting retirement accounts
- Seizure of assets
- Liens on the party’s vehicle or home
- Suspension of the party’s driver’s license
- Jail, particularly if the parent is found in contempt of court