Wisconsin law governs how courts determine child support obligations. But simply establishing a parent’s support obligation is often not the end of the story. There are scenarios where the other parent may need to take legal action to enforce an existing support order. And the parent required to pay support also has certain legal rights they can assert.
A qualified Fox Point child support attorney can advise and represent you in either case during a divorce. The team at Karp & Iancu, S.C., can assist you with any legal matter related to child support. This includes establishing an initial support obligation as well as seeking modification or enforcement of an existing order.
Understanding Wisconsin’s Child Support Guidelines
Child support is not an arbitrary number that a judge simply pulls out of thin air. Wisconsin courts must follow the states’ Child Support Standard, which is basically a series of guidelines regarding a non-custodial parent’s obligations to pay. The Standard is based on three primary criteria:
- the parent’s income;
- how much time the child spends with the parent; and
- how many other children the parent is supporting.
A parent’s income in this context refers to gross income. This means a court will consider all sources of income, including wages, salary, tips, bonuses, capital gains, worker’s compensation, personal injury awards, unemployment benefits, and contributions to retirement plans. Some income, such as child support received and public assistance, are not included in a parent’s gross income for purposes of calculating child support owed.
Once gross income is determined, the court will then calculate the support obligation based on a percentage, taking into account the number of children supported. This works on a sliding scale, so the more children the parent supports, the higher a percentage of gross income they will have to pay in support.
For example, if the parent only has one child, the Wisconsin guidelines specify they must pay 17 percent of annual income as support. If they have two children, however, they must pay 25 percent. At the upper end of the scale, a parent with five or more children must pay 34 percent of annual income. But in cases where the parent obligated to pay has shared placement–i.e., the child spends at least 25 percent of their nights with that parent–the court can reduce the amount of the support obligation to account for this time.
It is also important to note that the guidelines are not etched in proverbial stone. A judge can deviate from the calculations in certain cases. This is typically done when the amount dictated by the guidelines would be unfair to either the child or the parent.
How Long Do Child Support Obligations Last?
In most cases, a parent must continue paying child support until the child reaches 18. If the child is still in high school when they turn 18, the support obligation continues until they either graduate or turn 19, whichever occurs first.
It is also possible to seek modification of a child support obligation, either to increase or reduce the amount owed. A court will only grant such a modification, however, if there is evidence of a “substantial change” in the circumstances of either the child or the parent. One common reason a parent might seek a change is due to a sudden change in their annual income. Keep in mind, however, that a parent cannot reduce their child support obligation by quitting their job or voluntarily refusing to work.
How Do You Enforce a Child Support Order in Fox Point?
The parent entitled to receive child support can take legal action if the other parent does not pay. Wisconsin law spells out a number of potential consequences if a parent does not meet their support obligations, including but not limited to:
- intercepting the parent’s federal or state tax refunds;
- seizing assets, such as the parent’s car, bank account, or distributions from a retirement account;
- placing a lien on the parent’s home or other real estate holdings;
- suspending the parent’s driver’s or professional licenses; and
- imposing fines for contempt of court.