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How Wisconsin Law Handles Child Support Obligations

by | Mar 1, 2024

As parents going through a divorce, the main priority should be easing the transition for children as much as possible.

At Vanden Heuvel & Dineen, S.C., we understand this dilemma. You’re trying to move forward with your life. Yet, there is still a shared responsibility with your ex-spouse to care for the child you’ve brought into this world, and collaboration is non-negotiable.

In this guide, we’ll walk through the key things Wisconsin parents need to know about child support – from what it is to how it’s calculated and enforced. Our goal is to empower you with knowledge during this challenging chapter.

What is Child Support?

Before diving into the details, let’s start with the basics of family law. Child support is a court-ordered payment made by one parent to help provide financial support for a child when parents live apart. Along with child support, the court may also order medical support to provide health insurance for the child.

The main purpose of child support is to ensure children maintain a reasonable standard of living despite the changed family structure. It is every child’s right. The amount aims to balance financial responsibilities based on each parent’s income and ability to pay.

Child Support Obligations in Wisconsin

Let’s make one thing clear: In Wisconsin, both parents are responsible for financially supporting their child regardless of where the child resides.

If one parent earns substantially more income than the other, that parent will likely pay child support to balance things out. This applies whether you have 50/50 custody or one parent has primary placement. The court determines support amounts using an income-shares model based on statewide guidelines.

The shared placement calculation is the main method used when both parents have a court-ordered placement at least 25% of the time (92+ days per year). Parents are legally obligated to pay support until the child turns 18. If the child is still enrolled in high school, payments continue until graduation or age 19.

If that sounds complicated, feel free to call one of our experienced attorneys for more information. 

Factors Considered For Child Support Amount

Courts evaluate various aspects of each parent’s situation when determining support amounts. Key factors include:


Child support calculations consider income from all sources—not just jobs. Other examples include savings/investments, workers’ compensation, social security benefits, pensions, and more. The court tallies gross income (before taxes) to determine support amounts.

Number of Children

Wisconsin guidelines provide percentage standards based on the number of children requiring support. These percentages are multiplied by the paying parent’s income:

  • 17% of income for 1 child
  • 25% of income for 2 children
  • 29% of income for 3 children
  • 31% of income for 4 children
  • 34% of income for 5+ children

Special Needs

If your child has special needs, such as medical treatment or accessibility upgrades to the home, this may be reflected in the child support amount. In some cases, the timeline for child support may also extend past 18 years.

Custodial Arrangements

While custody itself does not impact support amounts, respective incomes and placements do. While it doesn’t typically impact child support, there are some rare cases where it might. For example, if parents have a 50/50 custody arrangement and make the exact same amount of money, no child support would be paid.

The Process For Establishing Child Support

Now that we understand what child support entails, how does the process work? In Wisconsin, child support is established through an administrative or court process.

The Wisconsin Child Support Program handles administrative cases. A parent (or the state if a party receives certain benefits) files a petition to open a support case. Then, based on the financial information provided, the agency issues an order stating the payment amount and terms.

Establishing support through the courts follows a similar path. It begins by filing a court petition requesting child support. Next, a judge makes decisions during hearings and issues final support orders. At Vanden Heuvel & Dineen, S.C., our family law attorneys can advise and represent you every step of the way.

Modification of Child Support Orders

Once a child support order is established, it’s not necessarily set in stone. Circumstances may change for either parent, which can affect the child support amount. Common reasons for modification include:

  • Loss of job/change in income
  • Receiving a raise at work
  • Change in placement arrangements
  • Special needs arising for a child

To modify a child support order in Wisconsin, you must file a Motion to Modify Child Support with the court and provide evidence of changed circumstances. If both parents agree to a new payment amount, they may file a Stipulation and Order to Amend Judgment form with the local County Clerk of Court’s office. There is no filing fee for this type of request.

VHD Law can guide you through child support modifications.

Enforcement of Child Support

While the child support system aims to function smoothly, not all parents readily meet obligations. Wisconsin’s Child Support Enforcement Program handles enforcement at the state level. County child support agencies also employ various tools to compel compliance. These include:

Income Withholding: The most common enforcement tool is income withholding. Courts can order employers to automatically withhold child support payments from wages. Withholding ensures regular, on-time payments regardless of cooperation.

Tax Refund Interception: Child support agencies can intercept state and federal tax refunds from non-paying parents. The money is used to repay the owed support.

License Suspension: Professional, recreational, and driver’s licenses may be suspended for parents who fail to pay support. Courts restore licenses once individuals comply with payment obligations.

Other Enforcement Remedies

Other enforcement measures may include liens on property, seizure of assets, and even jail time. Failing to provide child support for 120 or more consecutive days can be classified as a Class I felony in Wisconsin.

Special Considerations in Wisconsin

While Wisconsin follows clear rules and formulas, some unique situations call for special consideration:

High-Income Parents

Higher-earning parents have increased child support obligations. Amounts incrementally rise alongside income levels.

  • The first income threshold is $84,000/year
  • Between $84k-150k, a second set of rates apply
  • Above $150k, a third rate determines the support amount

On the other end, low-income parents may pay reduced rates based on federal poverty guidelines.

Support During Unemployment / Underemployment

If earnings drop substantially through no fault of your own, support obligations may be suspended or lowered temporarily. Though that is not a guarantee. However, job-quitting or voluntary underemployment does not warrant adjustments. Likewise, unemployment checks represent income and will be expected to contribute to child support.

Support for Serial Families

If a parent supports more than one family, the court may adjust the parent’s income for later child support amounts.

Split Placement

Split placement is a unique type of custody arrangement. For instance, one child stays with mom, and another stays with dad. Child support calculations may be adjusted to account for the unique living arrangements in these cases.

Get Legal Help From VHD Law

Child support involves many intricate state guidelines and calculations. While getting the numbers right is crucial, what matters most is providing stability for children during trying times.

That said, we understand the legal side is complicated. Some parents may, unfortunately, try taking advantage. Perhaps seeking more support than warranted or avoiding legitimate obligations.

Having a family law attorney in your corner can prove invaluable for staying compliant while also protecting your family’s rights. At Vanden Heuvel & Dineen, S.C., our lawyers have represented southeastern Wisconsin parents on all sides of child support for over 40 years.

Whether you need guidance, modification, or enforcement help, we’re here to discuss your case during a free consultation. Contact us today to schedule.

Written by Vanden Heuvel & Dineen, S.C.

Family Law

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