Typically, when a child resides primarily with one parent, the other parent must pay child support. The rules governing child support are governed by Wisconsin law. If you need help understanding these rules, we can help. The West Best child support attorneys at Karp & Iancu, S.C., represent parents on both sides of child support matters. So whether you are involved in a proceeding to establish or enforce a support order, we can advise you of your rights and responsibilities under the law.
What Counts as a Parent’s Income When Calculating Child Support in Wisconsin?
Wisconsin courts follow a series of child support guidelines when determining a parent’s financial obligations. These guidelines consider three primary factors:
- the parent’s income;
- how much time the child spends with each parent; and
- whether the parent required to pay child support is supporting other children as well.
With respect to income, a judge will look at all sources of a parent’s income and earnings, including income-generating assets. This includes but is not limited to:
- wages, salaries, earnings, and tips;
- commissions and bonuses;
- capital gains on the sale of assets;
- unemployment insurance benefits;
- Social Security Disability Income;
- undistributed income from a corporation;
- military allowances and veterans disability benefits;
- workers’ compensation;
- awards from personal injury lawsuits;
- life insurance;
- bank accounts;
- stocks and bonds; and
- interests in a business, such as a corporation or limited liability company.
An issue that can arise in Wisconsin child support cases is whether or not a parent is refusing to work or reducing their potential income in order to minimize their support obligations. If the judge believes that a parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, the court can “impute” income, i.e., base child support obligations on the gross income the parent should be earning based on their past earnings, health, education, and the local job market for their industry.
Understanding Wisconsin’s Child Support Guidelines–and the Exceptions
Generally speaking, a Wisconsin judge will base a child support obligation on a percentage of a parent’s annual income, with a sliding scale to account for the number of children supported. For example, a parent with just one child would be expected to pay 17 percent of their income as support, while someone with three children would pay 29 percent. The scale tops out at 5 or more children, where the parent is expected to pay 34 percent of income.
Wisconsin’s child support guidelines also account for certain special circumstances. Some common scenarios where different calculations would apply under the guidelines include:
- the parents have shared placement, i.e., each parent has the child for at least 25 percent of overnights;
- there is a split-placement situation where the parents have two common children and each lives most of the time with a different parent; or
- the parent required to pay child support has an unusually high or low income.
Additionally, the court can deviate from the support calculation determined under the guidelines if the judge determines it would be unfair to either the parent or the child. The judge must give reasons for a deviation. But judicial discretion is fairly broad in this area. Here are just some of the factors that a judge may consider in deviating from the child support guidelines:
- the child’s educational needs;
- the total financial resources of both parents;
- whether either parent receives spousal support or alimony;
- what would have been the child’s standard of living had the parents remained together;
- any extraordinary travel expenses involved in moving the child from one parent’s home to the other;
- the tax consequences to each parent; and
- any other factor affecting the best interests of the child.