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Child Support

Both of a child's parents have a legal responsibility to contribute to the financial support of their child. Whenever either parent is not living with the child and providing that support directly to the child by providing food, shelter, and other needs and living expenses, the court may be asked to create an obligation on the part of that parent to contribute to the financial needs of his or her child in the form of an order for child support.

Whether the request for child support arises in the context of a divorce or legal separation, paternity, or other kind of legal proceeding, the rules which are used to determine the amount and manner of the child support obligation are the same. In general, the child support formulas created by these rules are considered to be presumptively fair and must be used unless one or both of the parties is able to convince the court that use of the formulas would be unfair, and that a deviation from the formula amount is therefore warranted.

The child support formulas base child support liability on a percentage of the obligated parent's gross income, and are often referred to as the "percentage standards" or child support "guidelines." The particular amount of child support which the guidelines define as appropriate child support varies according to a number of variables, such as the number of children involved, the amount of time each of the parent's respectively has the physical care and supervision of the child(ren), and the amount the parents' incomes.

Where one of the parents has the child(ren) for most of the time, and is therefore said to have "primary physical placement," the child support guidelines provide that the other parent is presumptively responsible for child support determined based on a percentage of his or her gross income, as defined for child support purposes, as follows:

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

Where each of the parents has the child(ren) for a significant amount of the time (25% of the total time or more), the parents are said to have "shared placement," and under the child support guidelines a modified formula is used to determine child support. The shared placement formula is more involved and more difficult to explain easily, but in essence it calculates an imputed child support obligation for each parent and subtracts the lesser amount from the greater amount to determine a net obligation.

There are quite a number of special circumstances, exceptions, variations, and other factors which can make the actual determination of child support in a specific case more complicated than the general description provided above. Additional, more detailed information can be obtained by consulting with the website maintained by the Bureau of Child Support at http://www.dwd.state.wi.us/bcs/parents.htm.

The State of Wisconsin also provides a web page for parents to calculate a child support amount generated by applying the child support guidelines to factual assumptions which you input. This site contains links to the full text of the child support laws, as well as other information. You can access that site by clicking the following link - http://dcf.wisconsin.gov/bcs/excel/shared_placement.xlt.  Other child support calculation tools can also be found here.