Child Support Guidelines - The Basics

Child support decisions are based on the federally promulgated child support guidelines, found in the Administrative Rules of the Department of Children & Families, Chapter 150. Under federal rules, these guidelines are reviewed and modified every five years. The preface to Chapter 150 explains that the guidelines are based on studies regarding the costs of raising children, and are “based on the principle that a child’s standard of living should, to the degree possible, not be adversely affected because his or her parents are not living together.” The preface instructs courts to recognize that both parents are expected to contribute financially to the needs of their children.

Under Wis. Stats. Sec. 767.511, Wisconsin courts are directed to calculate child support pursuant to these guidelines. Child support payments are based on income and the amount of time a parent spends directly with the children. If a parent spends less than 92 overnights annually with the children, the formula is fairly simple: that parent would pay 17 percent of gross income for one child, 25 percent of gross income for two children, 29 percent for three children, and so forth.

As described in the sections below, there are two means of departing from this relatively simple formula. First, the DCF 150 guidelines themselves provide for alternative child support calculations under specified special circumstances. Secondly, pursuant to Wis. Stat. Sec. 767.511( 1m), the court may deviate from the guidelines child support amount if the court determines that applying the guidelines would be unfair to the child or to one of the parties.