Parents have the legal responsibility to provide financial support for their children, regardless of whether they live under the same roof or not. Under Wisconsin law, courts use state guidelines to calculate child support obligations for the noncustodial parent, and these guidelines include changes to the amount of support based on the number of children the noncustodial parent is supporting.
Percentage of Income Model
States use one of three child support guideline models to establish child support obligations for their children. Wisconsin uses the Percentage of Income Model. This model assumes both parents are responsible for supporting their children, even when they don’t live together. However, child support is set according to a percentage of the noncustodial parent’s income only. The court can also order either parent or both parents to provide medical support.
Wisconsin’s child support amounts are based on the noncustodial parent’s gross income, which is all income from all sources except child support and some public assistance payments. It includes wages, salaries, tips, interest, commissions, bonuses, unemployment, worker’s compensation, some personal injury awards, Social Security Disability Income payments, military allowances and veteran's benefits. "Income” includes money the paying parent doesn't actually receive because it is redirected elsewhere. For example, voluntarily contributions to a retirement plan are considered income even if it is deducted automatically from the parent's paycheck. The court can also consider the noncustodial parent’s ability to earn.
Wisconsin law establishes basic percentage guidelines. For example, if a noncustodial parent supports one child, he pays 17 percent of his gross income for child support. This amount increases with each child supported: 25 percent for two children, 29 percent for three children, 31 percent for four children, and 34 percent for five or more children. Wisconsin has separate guidelines for low-income noncustodial parents -- those who earn less than $1,350 per month. Noncustodial parents who earn more than $84,000 per year follow the standard guidelines for the first $7,000 of income each month then pay an adjusted percentage for the income above that amount.
Wisconsin courts may use other guidelines in special situations. When the noncustodial parent has physical custody of the children at least 25 percent of the time, the court may use both parents’ income to set the child support amount. If a noncustodial parent supports more than one family, the court can adjust the amount the noncustodial parent is required to pay to each family. If the court determines that a family’s situation makes the child support payments prescribed by the guidelines unfair to a parent or the children, the court can order the noncustodial parent to pay a different amount, but the court must provide a reason why it chose not to use the guidelines.