How is child support calculated in Wisconsin?

parent and child reach to hold hands

Here's how payments break down and when they change 

When nearly half of marriages end in divorce, it's clear that "I do" has some likelihood of changing to "I don't." But for those who are facing divorce and the potential for a child support obligation, it's natural to wonder what this financial obligation amounts to for you. 

Knowing your responsibility for child support payments can help you calculate your budget for the next chapter of your life. Many of our clients have concerns about their child support responsibility and need a clear picture of what to expect. Both child placement and child support matters can be complex, so working with a trusted attorney throughout the process is helpful.

How Wisconsin calculates child support

In Wisconsin, the law considers overnights — where children spend the night — to calculate how much child support the other parent must pay.

Shared Placement

If you have shared placement, payments would depend upon the number of children and the overnights each of you have. If one of you has primary placement, the other is obligated to pay based on a percentage of their income.

Rates for different placement arrangements differ, so if you have a 50/50 child placement arrangement, your payment would be different than if you have a 70/30 shared placement schedule. Typically, one parent must pay child support unless the parents equally share time with the child and earn the same income. Often, that's not the case.

Primary Placement

If one parent has less than 25% of overnights per year, which equals 92 overnights per year, that parent is said to have secondary placement, while the other party is considered to have primary placement. In situations like this, the parent with secondary physical placement pays the primary placement parent in accordance with the Wisconsin standard percentage model for child support. This model is based on gross income, including all wages, tips, profits, rental income, salaries, interest payments, and other earnings before taxes and deductions. The model is based on the number of children in primary placement with the parent. 

  • 17% of gross income for one child
  • 25% of gross income for two children
  • 29% of gross income for three children
  • 31% of gross income for four children
  • 34% of gross income for five children

The court may exercise some discretion in setting monthly child support payments, so having an attorney who specializes in family law and is looking out for your interests can be extremely beneficial. Child support responsibilities may also differ from the standard model, based on your unique situation. For example, the law in Wisconsin places limits on the amount of income someone can garnish for child support, so child support cannot claim someone's total wages.

The Wisconsin Department of Children and Families has an online child support conversion table you can use to estimate child support payments. Child support is not taxable income for the parent receiving it.

Failing to pay child support can be costly

The penalties for failing to pay child support in Wisconsin can be significant, as it is considered a violation of a court order. Violators can even be held in contempt of court, resulting in fines, jail sentences or criminal prosecution. In addition, failure to pay child support that exceeds $500 can result in a lien placed on your property, making it impossible for you to sell the property until the child support is paid. Liens can be problematic for your credit, securing grants and loans, getting licensed for work, driving and even hunting. They can even lead to the seizure of your bank accounts or property. 

The future of your child support case

In Wisconsin, child support orders are reviewed every three years or whenever there is a significant change in income — whether increasing or decreasing. Additionally, a child support order may provide for an annual adjustment in the amount to be paid, based on a change in the payer's income. This is conditioned on the child support being set forth in the order as a fixed sum and based on the percentage standard of the guidelines. No annual adjustment may be made unless the order provides for it. Whether you're new to the complexities of child support or want legal advice due to a substantial change in your income, the family law attorneys at Johns, Flaherty & Collins can help. Contact us to learn more about the options available for consultation or legal representation in La Crosse, WI, Holmen, WI, and surrounding areas.

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