At Karp & Iancu, S.C., we help parents set child support and enforce an order if one parent refuses to pay. Child support is one of the least controversial issues in most divorces, but there still are key considerations to go over with an attorney.
How to Calculate Child Support
Wisconsin has standardized the child support process. Our state now uses guidelines to calculate support which uses three primary factors:
- The number of children
- How the children split their time with their parents
- Each parent’s gross income
Gross income consists of all taxable and non-taxable income and can include wages, tips, bonuses, capital gains, unemployment benefits, workers’ compensation or disability benefits, and other income.
The non-custodial parent will pay child support to the parent with custody. Generally, you will end up responsible for the following amount of support:
- One child: 17% of your annual income
- Two children: 25% of your annual income
- Three children: 29% of your annual income
- Four children: 31% of your annual income
- Five or more children: 34% of your annual income
For example, if your annual income is $40,000 and you are supporting two children, you will pay about $10,000 in child support. If your child spends more than 25% of overnights with you, the amount you pay can be reduced.
Departing from the Guidelines
The guidelines have made child support calculations easy. But sometimes the guidelines result in an amount that is unfair to the child or either parent. In these situations, judges have the power to “deviate” from the guideline amount.
For example, a child with a disability might need at-home help and other expenses. The parent paying child support will probably share the cost of this necessary care.
Termination of Child Support
Child support obligations do not depend on whether a parent maintains a continuing relationship with a child. So if you choose to cut off contact, you still must meet all obligations until a judge modifies the award.
In most situations, child support lasts until your child turns 18 or graduates from high school, whichever comes later. At 19, child support terminates regardless of whether your child is still in school.
Obtaining Child Support
If you have applied for divorce, a judge can issue temporary child support orders which last for the duration of the divorce. Once the divorce is finalized, the judge will enter a permanent child support order. You can request child support when filing your divorce paperwork.
If you are unmarried, you will need to prove paternity first. A man has no parental rights in a child until paternity is established, and he therefore has no responsibility to pay child support.
Modifying Child Support
Sometimes it becomes necessary to change the child support order, and our legal team can help. We have represented parents seeking to decrease the amount of support they pay or increase the amount they receive.
A court will only modify child support if there has been a “substantial change” in circumstances. In most cases, this means a meaningful change in income or time spent with a child. For example, you might have become disabled and seen your income fall by 50%. A judge should consider your request to reduce the amount of child support you pay.
Likewise, a parent who received a substantial promotion or raise will probably pay more. Parents can always agree to increase child support, but often the parent receiving support needs to request a court order.
If you are paying child support, you must continue to pay until the judge modifies the support order—even if you are struggling with job loss, illness, or another tragedy. Unpaid child support continues to accrue as “arrears” and can increase due to interest.
Child Support Enforcement
In most cases, a court will enter an income withholding order or wage assignment, which results in money being deducted each month from a parent’s paycheck. If the parent changes jobs or is briefly unemployed, they need to make a payment directly to the Wisconsin Support Collections Trust Fund.
Unfortunately, some parents do not pay. They might quit working or, more likely, receive money under the table in the form of cash. The parent doesn’t report the income to the IRS, so no one knows they are receiving it.
Court orders are not recommendations, and a parent must pay child support until the order is modified. If you are struggling to get the other parent to pay up, then you or the state can request enforcement in a court.
How a Court Enforces Child Support
To light a fire under the other parent, the judge can order any of the following:
- Tax return interception. The state can intercept any tax refund and use it to pay down child support arrears.
- Retirement account interception. The state might also seize distributions from a retirement account, like a 401(k) or Roth IRA, and apply it to unpaid support.
- Asset seizure. The state can seize a parent’s car, bank accounts, or even real estate to pay child support.
- Liens. The court might place a lien on the deadbeat parent’s home or car in the amount of child support arrears.
- License suspension. The state can suspend a parent’s driver’s license or a professional license until they begin making payments on child support.
- Fines. A judge might fine the parent for contempt of court as a punishment or to encourage them to pay.
- Jail. It’s always possible a judge will jail a person for contempt of court. This is usually the last option, since it is hard for a parent in jail to work and earn money.
If life’s difficulties have left you unemployed, quickly reach out to an attorney who can bring a modification action to get your support obligation reduced. Likewise, if you are owed support, our legal team can assist with seeking enforcement.