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Kevin O'Flaherty

Child support as a concept refers to the obligation parents owe their children over the course of their childhood and adolescence, in both economic and non-economic terms.  The economic aspects of child support in Wisconsin are governed by Wisconsin Statute 767.511, along with the Administrative Code DCF 150.  These two laws create a framework for how child support works, determining how much is child support in Wisconsin, and how long you pay child support in the state of Wisconsin.  In this article, we provide an overview of the current child support laws in the state, as well as a look at recent changes that have materially changed how child support is calculated. In particular, we will answer the following questions:

  • What goes into calculating child support in Wisconsin?
  • How do you calculate child support in Wisconsin?
  • Do stimulus checks go to child support in Wisconsin?
  • How long do you pay child support in Wisconsin?
  • How can a child support order be enforced in Wisconsin?
  • What are some recent changes to child support law in Wisconsin?  

What goes into calculating child support in Wisconsin?

Child support in Wisconsin operates under the principle that a child should not be adversely affected financially as a result of a divorce or their parent’s separation.  This is served by the award of a percentage of the non-custody parent’s income to the parent with custody. The payor’s gross monthly income serves as the basis against which a percentage is taken to support a child no longer in custody with the payor.  Gross income includes salary and wages, as well as any additional form of income, without an offset for federal or state taxes.  Courts do allow some offset for business expenses, if the payor has monthly costs associated with an operation of a business they derive income from.  

In some circumstances, Wisconsin courts are allowed to consider matters outside the percentage of the gross income of the payor.  These matters include the financial resources of the child and parents, maintenance being received by either parent, the needs of the parents to support themselves, the child’s standard of living while the parent’s were married, whether the custodian parent should remain as a stay at home parent, awards of physical placement of the child, extraordinary travel expenses related to exercising physical placement rights of the child, the health needs of the child including both physical and mental, the educational needs of the child, tax consequences to each parent, and the earning capacity of each parent.  If any balance of the above factors is such that an award of a percentage of gross income is not appropriate, the court has discretion to modify the amount.  

How do you calculate child support in Wisconsin?

Section 1 of Department of Children and Families DCF 150.03 sets out the percentage owed of gross income for child support in a single custody situation:

(a) 17% for one child;

(b) 25% for 2 children;

(c) 29% for 3 children;

(d) 31% for 4 children; and

(e) 34% for 5 or more children.

Again, it is important to keep in mind that Wisconsin uses the overall gross income of the payor, with generally no offset for taxes.

The percentage calculation is different if the parents qualify as shared-placement parents.  Shared-placement parents are defined as when both parents have custody of the child for over 25% or 92 overnights of a year.  When qualifying as shared placement, parents have assumed the responsibility of providing the child support during the time they have custody of the child.  To determine child support, courts begin with the percentages for sole custody, then offset for the proportion each parent has custody and the other parent’s child support obligation.  Ultimate responsibility for making a child support payment will come down to a balance of which parent has the child for less time, and which parent earns a higher income.  

There are a number of other situations where Wisconsin law departs from the above percentage standard for determining child support.  Particularly high- or low-income earners, split-placement parents, and serial-family parents all qualify for different child support calculations.  For a more comprehensive breakdown of calculating child support in the state of Wisconsin, please check out this article:

Do stimulus checks go to child support in Wisconsin?

It depends on which round of stimulus is at issue.  It was possible for first-round COVID Stimulus checks under the CARES Act to be seized to pay child support debt if Wisconsin had informed the federal government of the late payment before the stimulus checks had been issued.  The entire stimulus check could be forfeited, depending on the value of the outstanding debt.  For the second round, and now the third round under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, legislators took steps to specifically prevent this from happening, with language stating the payments were protected from state and federal debt.  

How long do you pay child support in Wisconsin?

In Wisconsin, child support is required until the child turns 18.  An exception is made if the child turns 18 and is still pursuing their high school diploma through a qualifying program, at which point the age is raised to 19.  Note that a child moving out of the other parent’s home does not end the responsibility to pay child support, it will still be owed until the above circumstances have been met.

How can a child support order be enforced in Wisconsin?

Wisconsin takes child support payments very seriously, and failure can result in the arrest of the offending party for contempt of court.  If payments have entered arrears and no acceptable explanation has been forthcoming, courts have a host of tools they can employ to obtain payment.  If the offending party has property in their name, the court subjects the property to a legal lien.  The court can also garnish wages up to the amount owed in child support.

What are some recent changes to child support law in Wisconsin?  

In 2018, Wisconsin child support law went through an overhaul, with a few key calculations being updated to provide more equity to shared parenting scenarios.  The crux of this renovation was a change to how variable costs are calculated going forward.  Variable costs are defined as reasonable costs incurred above basic support, such as childcare, tuition for a private school, and any special needs the child has.  In the previous system, the parent with the most custody time would have the most say over these purchases, and then be compensated by the parent paying child support.  This system provided little opportunity for the paying parent to have a say in how variable costs would be incurred.  In the interest of equity, variable costs will now be defined by the parents going into the child support scenario.  If the parents are unable to come to an agreement, the court will define variable costs with input from both the parents.  Note that certain items will be mandatory, including transportation costs.

The changes also saw an expansion of what courts consider “overnights,” for the purposes of calculating a shared-placement plan.  Under the old rule, overnight was a literal designation, this has been eased.  Now the day will be broken down into 6-hour intervals that include a meal.  If a child is with a parent for at least 2 of these intervals, and the child has received two meals, this will qualify as an “overnight.”  This has implications for who will qualify for shared placement and how costs will be divided, moving towards a more equitable assessment.  You may also find this article helpful,

If you are facing a child support question it is critical that you be informed and well advised.  Working with a qualified Wisconsin family law attorney can make a difference. Call our office at (630) 354-0986 or schedule a consultation with one of our experienced family law lawyers today. You can also fill out our confidential contact form and we will get back to you shortly.

Disclaimer: The information provided on this blog is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Each individual's legal needs are unique, and these materials may not be applicable to your legal situation. Always seek the advice of a competent attorney with any questions you may have regarding a legal issue. Do not disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.


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