Child Support Laws in Wisconsin

An overview of child support laws in Wisconsin. Learn how child support is determined, how long it lasts, and more.

Wisconsin Child Support

Who Must Pay Child Support in Wisconsin

The Child Support 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 have a legal obligation and are responsible for supporting their children, whether they live together or not.

How is Child Support Determined in Wisconsin?

Child support guidelines are based on the parent’s income, the time a child spends with each parent, and whether a parent supports other children.

Courts typically use shared-placement guidelines when each parent has custody of a child for at least 25% of the time, which works out to 92 nights per year. The court will order each parent to provide the child’s basic support costs in proportion to the time the parent cares for the child.

The court also assigns responsibility for payment of the child’s variable costs in proportion to each parent’s share of placement.

The incomes of both parents are also considered when determining the amount of child support.

The first step is to determine gross income, which includes income from the following sources:

  • Wages
  • Overtime work
  • Commissions
  • Tips
  • Bonuses
  • Rental income
  • Dividends and interest

After determining gross income, the court will determine net income by making specific deductions, such as:

  • social security taxes
  • federal income taxes based on the tax rate for a single person claiming one personal exemption and the standard deduction
  • state income tax
  • union dues
  • the cost of health insurance for the child.

Department of Children and Families DCF 150.03 sets out the percentage owed of income for child support in a single custody situation. Those percentages are:

  • 17% for one child
  • 25% for 2 children
  • 29% for 3 children
  • 31% for 4 children
  • 34% for 5 or more children

Ultimate responsibility for making a child support payment will come down to a balance of which parent has the child for less time and which parent earns a higher income.

Read More: How to File for Divorce in Wisconsin

When Does Child Support End in Wisconsin?

Child support lasts until a child turns 18 or until they turn 19 if they are still in high school.

You do not need to keep paying support if a child chooses to go to college. However, some parents set up agreements where support continues through a child’s college years.

Emancipation notices are sent to both parents 90 days before their youngest child’s verified date of their 18th birthday. If your child is turning 18 soon and you have not received a notice in the mail, you should contact your local child support agency to ensure that your address is current.

If you still have arrears when child support is scheduled to end, those arrears will still need to be paid. Income withholding may continue at the same collection level until past-due child support is paid in full. Cases with past-due support may be enforced up to 20 years after the youngest child reaches the age of 18.

When a child files to be emancipated from one or both parents, the court may allow the payor to cease paying child support.

When the court or other circumstances terminate a parent’s parental rights, the obligation to pay child support also ends.

If past-due support is owed when current support ends, the child support obligation will remain in place.

How Do I Ask for Child Support?

All families may apply for child support (case management) services at their local child support agency without paying an application fee. Parents and guardians can download an application form online.

Fill out the form the best you can, sign the back page, and return the completed application to your nearest child support agency.

All parents paying and receiving child support automatically receive financial management services. Child support agencies can provide full case management services to parents and legal guardians if they apply for them. If one parent applies, both parents receive case management services.

Child Support is sent to parents by direct deposit or the Wisconsin Support Collections Debit Card.

If you sign up for one method, you may switch to the other later. For direct deposit, download the application form, or call the Wisconsin Support Trust Fund at (800) 991-5530 or (877) 209-5209.

Factors that May Impact Child Support

Wisconsin courts can deviate from the standard if it would be unfair to either the child or one of the parents. Special support guidelines exist for parents who:

  • Share placement of their children (child with each parent at least 25% of the time)
  • Split the placement of their children (i.e., one parent has one child, the other parent has another)
  • Support more than one family (called a “serial family”)
  • Have a low income
  • Have a high income

Other factors that can impact a deviation include:

  • Overall financial resources of the child and the parents
  • Maintenance (alimony) received by either parent
  • Each parent’s needs to support themselves
  • The child’s standard of living while the parents were married
  • Whether the custodian parent should remain as a stay-at-home parent
  • Awards of physical placement of the child
  • Extraordinary travel expenses related to exercising a child’s physical placement rights
  • The child’s physical and mental health needs
  • The child’s educational needs
  • Tax consequences to each parent
  • Each parent’s earning capacity of each parent.

What happens when a parent is called to active military duty?

If child support is normally withheld from your civilian paycheck, child support payments will be withheld from your military pay. Your local child support agency will help you transfer the income withholding to the Defense Finance and Accounting Services (DFAS).

Your child support agency will contact DFAS and submit the necessary information to them. Once the information is submitted to DFAS, your children will continue to receive your support payments.

When you return from active duty, inform your child support agency, and provide them with your updated address and employment information.

Read More: 132 Co-Parenting Tips for Divorced and Separated Parents

Is Health Insurance Considered a Part of Child Support?

When child support is ordered, courts must also determine who will pay for medical insurance and who must pay the medical expenses not covered by insurance.

Child support under Wisconsin’s percentage guidelines is not intended to be used for health costs for children. One or both parents may be ordered to provide health insurance coverage if the service providers are accessible and the enrollment cost is reasonable.

Establishing Paternity

Paternity can be established any time after the child is born, but a court action to establish paternity must occur before the child’s 19th birthday.

There are four ways to establish legal fatherhood in Wisconsin:

  • Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment
  • Court Ruling
  • Conclusive Paternity Determination Based on Genetic Test Results
  • Acknowledgment of Marital Child

If the mother and the man are 18 or older and are sure that the man is the father, the easiest way to establish paternity is with the Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment form. When either parent wants genetic testing, the parents should not sign the form until they receive the test results.

Completing the form does not create a child support order. However, it does allow the court to order support if necessary.

If the mother or man is unsure who the father is, they should have genetic testing. Local child support agencies offer genetic testing at a reduced cost. If the parents were not married at the time of the child’s birth, legal fatherhood must be decided before a court will order child support.

If the test shows a 99% or greater probability of fatherhood, the man will be the legal father under Wisconsin law.

Enforcing a Wisconsin Child Support Order

Contact your child support agency and ask for enforcement of your child support order if the other parent does not make a payment for more than a month.

Child support laws are enforced aggressively, and failure to pay child support is considered contempt of court. A parent who has repeatedly failed to pay the child support will probably be served and ordered to appear in court for a child support hearing. Failure to show up to court will lead to an arrest warrant and possible jail time.

Wage garnishment is the common form of collecting past-due support. A court will determine what percentage of wages can be garnished based upon the amount owed in child support.

Intercepting pension payments is another enforcement tool. The Department of Children and Families may direct employee trust funds to intercept funds to fulfill a child support lien.

Liens against property can be filed against accounts at financial institutions, personal property, real estate, or against rights to the property.

The Department of Children and Families may also restrict, deny renewal, or suspend licensure of any license granted by the department of safety and professional services.

Modifying Wisconsin Child Support Payments

To request a child support modification in Wisconsin, you must file paperwork with your county’s clerk of courts.

Generally, Wisconsin has a 33-month waiting period from the date of the last support calculation. However, there are exceptions to this waiting period when you can make a strong case for a change in circumstances which can include:

  • The noncustodial parent’s pay increases
  • The noncustodial parent’s health changes – usually from normal to bad
  • The custodial parent’s income changes
  • The health of the custodial parent changes
  • The health/medical needs of the child changes
  • The needs of the child changes
  • The custody arrangement changes
  • A parent is placed in jail

The parents can agree to a support amount at any time. They can file the necessary papers or online forms to make the change. The change is effective only when both parties agree, the forms are completed, and a judge signs a new order.

Read More: Counseling Children Through Divorce

Child Support and Taxes

Child support payments are neither deductible by the payor nor taxable to the recipient. Don’t include child support payments received when you calculate your gross income.

However, you may be able to claim the child as a dependent. Generally, the custodial parent is treated as one who provides more than half of the child’s support. In some cases, the noncustodial parent may be treated as the parent who provided more than half of the child’s support.

Many agreements include a provision that each parent declares half the children as dependents when there is an even number of children. The parents alternate years claiming the child for an odd number of children. In this situation, parents may need to submit Form 8332, Release/Revocation of Release of Claim to Exemption for Child by Custodial Parent, or a similar statement.

Which Agency Handles Child Support Matters in Wisconsin?

Contact Department of Children and Families (DCF) provides several child support services in Wisconsin. Case management services are available for parents paying child support and receiving child support.

Case management services are provided by various county and tribal child support agencies. After an application is received, DCF will provide case management services to you, which may include:

  • Locating the other parent and their financial assets
  • Scheduling genetic tests for the child and the potential father of the child
  • Preparing the papers and taking the case to court to legally identify the father and set up a support order
  • Ensuring that one or both parents provide health insurance for the children
  • Using all available and appropriate enforcement tools to collect support owed
  • Reviewing the support order for potential modification
  • Ending the support order when necessary.

DCF also provides financial management services, including:

  • Working with employers to withhold income for support payments
  • Processing payments
  • Collecting, recording, and sending payments
  • Collecting, recording, and sending fees
  • Providing monthly account statements
  • Providing payment coupons
  • Providing different ways to pay for customers
  • Providing a direct deposit and debit card option for parents receiving child support
  • Providing payment information by phone and online
  • Correcting errors on account balances

The main DCF office is located at:

Department of Children and Families
201 West Washington Avenue
P.O. Box 8916
Madison, WI 53703-8916

Phone: 608-422-7000


If you already have a Wisconsin court order for support, contact the office in the county where you filed the order.

If you have filed for divorce or legal separation but do not have a support order, contact the office in the county where the divorce or separation papers were filed.

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