It is common practice that when a child resides most of the time with one parent, the other parent will make periodic child support payments. There are a number of state laws that govern child support. And even in cases where the parents are essentially in agreement over how to co-parent their child, the law in this area can still lead to some confusion. Our experienced Menomonee Falls child support attorneys can help. At Karp & Iancu, S.C., we can represent you in a legal proceeding to determine or enforce a child support obligation. We can review your case and advise you of your rights and responsibilities, and ultimately help you do right by you and your children.
Wisconsin’s Child Support Standard
Perhaps the most common question we get regarding this subject is, “How does a court know how much child support to require?” The answer to this question will vary depending on the specific case. But Wisconsin does have a Child Support Standard that functions as guidelines for judges to rely upon. These guidelines help determine child support based on three key factors:
- the parent’s income;
- the time that the child spends with each parent; and
- whether or not the parent is financially supporting other children.
The parent’s income is often the most critical single factor in determining the actual amount of support they must pay. The court will look at all sources of current or potential income for the parent, including but not limited to the following:
- the parent’s gross wages or salary;
- the parent’s income from investments, including capital gains;
- the parent’s government benefits, including unemployment insurance, Social Security disability, and contributions to retirement plans (but not public assistance payments); and
- the parent’s available income from liquid assets, such as life insurance, bank accounts, and securities.
A parent cannot avoid paying child support by quitting their job or otherwise choosing to earn less than they could. The court is allowed to estimate or “impute” a parent’s income in such circumstances. When imputing income, the judge may consider:
- the parent’s past earnings;
- the parent’s current physical and mental health;
- the parent’s education and job training;
- the availability of local jobs that match the parent’s skills, experience, and training.
When Can a Judge Deviate from the Child Support Guidelines?
As previously noted, a parent’s current or potential income is just one of three critical factors a Wisconsin court must consider under the state’s child support guidelines. The other two factors–time spent with the child and the number of other children the parent must support–also play an important role in the final calculation.
If one parent has physical placement of the child for more than 75 percent of the time, the other parent’s child support obligation is a percentage of their monthly gross income based on a sliding percentage scale, ranging from 17 percent for 1 child to 34 percent for 5 or more children. But these percentages may be altered based on different placement factors, including but not limited to the following:
- whether the parent is supporting children from other relationships;
- whether the parents have at least two children and each has physical placement of at least one child (i.e., “split placement”);
- whether the parents have shared physical placement, i.e., the child spends at least 25 percent of nights with each parent.
Ultimately, a judge can deviate upward or downward from Wisconsin’s Child Support Standard after considering these and other relevant issues. The court must, however, give its reasons for any such deviation.
Enforcing and Modifying Child Support Orders
In addition to establishing the amount of a parent’s child support obligation, it may also be necessary to return to court in order to either enforce or modify an existing order as circumstances warrant. Wisconsin law offers a number of mechanisms for enforcing a child support order, up to and including holding a parent in contempt of court for refusing to pay. As for modification, the law allows a parent to request a review of their existing support obligation any time there is a substantial change in circumstances.