Setting Child Support Payment Amounts

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Notice: The administrative code Chapter DCF 150 Child Support Percentage of Income Standard was amended effective July 1, 2018. BCS is in the process of updating information on this site to conform to those changes.

The Percentage of Income Standard provides guidelines to Wisconsin courts for setting payment amounts for child support and medical support. These guidelines are based on the belief that both parents are responsible for supporting their children, whether they live together or not.

The child support guidelines are based on:

  • the parent's income
  • the time a child spends with each parent
  • whether a parent is supporting other children

Percentage of Income Guidelines

Each of the percentages below are applied to the parent's income for child support:

  • 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 or more children

Example:

Monthly Income 1 child (17%) 2 children (25%) 3 children (29%) 4 children (31%) 5 children (34%)
$1,500 $255 $375 $435 $465 $510
$2,000 $340 $500 $580 $620 $680
$2,500 $425 $625 $725 $775 $850
$3,000 $510 $750 $870 $930 $1,020
$3,500 $595 $875 $1,015 $1,085 $1,190
$4,000 $680 $1,000 $1,160 $1,240 $1,360
More examples using the basic guidelines

Guidelines for Special Circumstances

The court may use different guidelines for the special case types listed below:

Shared Placement Cases

Child Support Guidelines for Shared-Placement Cases

Courts may use the shared-placement guidelines when a court gives each parent placement of the child for at least 25% of the time.

  • The court will order each parent to provide the child's basic support costs in proportion to the time that parent cares for the child.
  • The court must also assign responsibility for payment of the child's variable costs in proportion to each parent's share of placement.
  • Incomes of both parents are used to set the amount of support.
  • The parent's share of placement determines that parent's share of support.

Example: Parents have 2 children

Parent A: Monthly gross income is $2,000. Cares for both children 219 days a year (60% of the time)

Parent B: Monthly gross income is $3,000. Cares for both children 146 days a year (40% of the time)

(This chart does not include payments for the children's variable costs.)

  Parent A Parent B
Monthly Income for Child Support $2,000 $3,000
Multiply the monthly income by 25% x 25%
#1 $500 $750
For each parent, multiply the amount in line #1 by 150% x 150%
#2 $750 $1,125
Multiply line #2 by the percent of time spent with the other parent x 40% x 60%
#3 $300 $675
Subtract the lower amount from the higher amount in line #3. In this example, Parent B will pay $375/month $675 - 300 = $375

Serial Family Cases

Child Support Guidelines for Serial Family Parents

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

Order of legal obligation

The order of legal obligation is based on when the support order began. The legal obligation may include a parent's current, intact family. A support obligation begins on the date when:

  • The child is born, if the child was conceived or born during the parent's marriage
  • The child is adopted into an intact family
  • Legal fatherhood is established or the child is adopted. For a child born outside of marriage, the duty to support begins at the child's birth.

Example

Monthly Income for Child Support $2,500
Support order for the 2 older children - $625
Adjusted income for younger child = $1,875
Percentage standard for 1 child x 17%
Estimated support amount for 1 younger child $318.75
A parent has a support order for two older children and now has a new order for one younger child

Split-Placement Cases

Child Support Guidelines for Split-Placement Cases

If the court orders the placement of one or more children with each parent, the court may use the split-placement guidelines. The court may prorate the Percentage Standard for each child in split-placement based on the total number of children.

Prorated percentages:

Each of the percentages below are applied to the parent's income for child support

  • Cases with 2 children, 12.5% of income for each child
  • Cases with 3 children, 9.67% of income for each child
  • Cases with 4 children, 7.75% of income for each child
  • Cases with 5 children, 6.8% of income for each child

Example - Parents have 3 children

Parent A - Monthly income of $3,000 and has placement of 2 children

Parent B - Monthly income of $2,800 and has placement of 1 child

  Parent A Parent B
Monthly income for child support $3,000 $2,800
Multiply Multiply monthly income by prorated percentage, based on the number of children with other parent x 9.67% x 19.34%
The parent with the highest dollar amount in this line will be the parent who pays support = $290 = $542
Subtract the lower amount from the higher amount. In this example Parent B will pay $252 $542 - $290 = $252

High-Income Payer Cases

Child Support Guidelines for High-Income Payers

If the paying parent's income for child support is more than $84,000/year, the court may use the high-income payer guidelines.

  • The Percentage Standard will determine support for the first $84,000 of income
  • A second set of guidelines are applied to the income between $84,000 and $150,000/year
  • A third set of guidelines are applied to income of more than $150,000/year
Paying Parent's Monthly Income 1 child 2 children 3 children 4 children 5 children
First $7,000 of income 17% 25% 29% 31% 34%
Income between $7,000 and $12,500 14% 20% 23% 25% 27%
Income above $12,500 10% 15% 17% 19% 20%

Example

A parent has an income of $14,000/month and supports two children

Income portions/month Income amount Percent Support for each portion of income
First $7,000 $7,000 x 25% = $1,750
Portion between $7,000 and $12,500 $5,500 x 20% = + $1,100
Portion greater than $12,500 $1,500 x 15% = + $225
Estimated support total = $3,075/month

Low-Income Payer Cases

Child Support Guidelines for Low-Income Payers

If the paying parent's income for child support is less than $1,485/month the court may use the low-income payer guidelines. Support amounts vary with parent's monthly income and number of children.

Low-income payer guidelines are based on income between 75% and 150% of the federal poverty level. The federal government updates the poverty level each spring. The information in the example below will change yearly.

Examples using 2016 federal poverty level numbers

Monthly Income 1 child 2 children 3 children 4 children 5 children
$743 $83 $123 $142 $152 $167
$899 $112 $165 $191 $204 $224
$1,055 $144 $213 $247 $264 $289
$1,215 $181 $267 $310 $331 $363
$1,485 $252 $371 $431 $460 $505
 

More examples for low-income payers

Income Used to Set Child Support Orders

Below are some of the factors a court considers to determine how much income a payer has to pay support with:

Gross Income

Gross income is defined as all income and earnings from all sources. The income may or may not be taxable. Income can be in the form of money, property, or services.

Gross income includes:

  • wages, salaries, earnings, tips, interest, capital gains, commissions, and bonuses
  • worker's compensation or other personal injury awards intended to replace income
  • unemployment insurance
  • income continuation benefits and Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) payments
  • contributions to retirement and cafeteria plans and undistributed income of a corporation
  • military allowances and veterans disability benefits

Gross income does not include:

  • child support
  • public assistance payments, such as W-2 cash payments or FoodShare payments

Ability to Earn

The court can consider a parent's ability to earn based on:

  • past earnings
  • current physical and mental health
  • history of child care responsibilities and periods of physical placement
  • education and training
  • local job openings

Income from Assets

Income may be based on assets, such as:

  • Life insurance
  • Cash and deposit accounts
  • Stocks and Bonds
  • Business interests

 

For more information, please see Administrative Rule DCF 150, Appendix B

Questions Parents ask about Setting Child Support

Why are the guidelines based on gross income and not net income?

Gross income is a more accurate reflection of income. Net income may be manipulated through the use of exemptions and deductions.

What is the Percentage Standard?

The Percentage of Income Standard provides guidelines to Wisconsin courts for setting child support and medical support. The guidelines are based on the parent's income, the time a child spends with each parent, and whether a parent is supporting other children.

How were the guidelines in the Percentage Standard chosen?

Wisconsin's guidelines are based on a study that shows the amount of income parents use to raise their children. The guidelines assume that when parents are living apart, both parents will continue to spend part of their income on their children. The guidelines are based on the principle that a child's standard of living should not be negatively affected because his or her parents are not living together.

Do courts use the Percentage Standard when setting family support orders?

Family support orders combine child support and spousal maintenance. The family support amount determined under the Percentage Standard should be increased by the amount necessary to provide a net family support payment, after taxes are paid, of at least the amount of the child support set by the guidelines.

Do courts have to use the guidelines in the Percentage of Income Standard?

A court may order a parent to pay more or less than the amounts set by the Percentage of Income Standard if the court decides that the Income Standard would be unfair to the child or one of the parents. The court must note the reason for not using the guidelines.