In Wisconsin, child support is calculated based upon the number of minor children, the parents’ income and the parents’ physical placement time with the children.  All support calculations are based upon the “Percentage of Income Standard,” found in the Wisconsin Administrative Code at DCF Chapter 150

The most basic child support calculation is based solely on the percentage standard.  Under this method, the amount of child support paid is based upon a certain percentage of the paying parent’s gross income.  The percentage of monthly income assumed to be available for child support is as follows:

  • 17% for one child;
  • 25% for two children;
  • 29% for three children;
  • 31% for four children;
  • 34% for five or more children.

More complex calculations come into play in certain circumstances.  The most common of these is probably the “shared placement” calculation.  This is a modified formula which applies when both parents have court ordered periods of placement of at least 25% (or 92 days per year).  Under the shared placement formula, both parents’ incomes are taken into account, in relation to overnight placement, to arrive at a net child support amount.  In addition to the child support payment, parents are typically ordered to pay for a percentage of “variable costs” incurred on behalf of the children – child care, tuition, extra-curricular activities, and the like.  A shared placement child support calculator published by the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families is available online

Another situation which calls for a modification of the percentage standard is that of a “serial family payer.”  A serial family payer is one who has a prior legal obligation for child support.  For example, a parent who is divorcing but has a child from a previous marriage may qualify for serial family payer status in calculating support for the children from the second marriage. 

Infrequently, parents decide to split up their children after a divorce with one or more children residing with each parent.  To address these situations, there is a special provision in the child support formulas for calculating support for these “split-placement parents.”  As in shared placement cases, both parents’ incomes are considered relative to the number of children and the placement.

If a parent is considered to be “high” or “low” income, modifications to the formulas are made as well. 

If none of the above “special” circumstances apply, and a parent feels more or less child support is appropriate for the situation, that parent may request what is known as a “deviation” from the formula.  A deviation may provide more or less support than the application of the formula would indicate.  The factors that the Court may consider in deviation include (but are not limited to):

  • the financial resources of the child;
  • the financial resources of both parents;
  • maintenance payments received by either party;
  • the needs of any person whom either party is legally obligated to support;
  • the standard of living the child would have enjoyed had the marriage stayed intact;
  • the cost of child care;
  • special health needs of the child.

Deviations are rare, but may be appropriate in certain situations.  It is up to the Judge to decide whether to grant the deviation, based upon the evidence presented.

For more information about how child support may be calculated in your case, please contact an experienced divorce and family law attorney.

If you live in Wisconsin, have a child and were never married to the other parent, you need a formal determination of paternity in order to establish certain legal rights and responsibilities.   This is true even if the father’s name is on the birth certificate, and even if the child is given the father’s last name.  This is true even if the parents are living together.  This is true even if the parents have a great co-parenting relationship without the “benefit” (hassle) of legal intervention.

If you are a father, here is some of what you are missing:

  • You have no legal custody rights;
  • You have no rights to physical placement (physical custody);
  • Your child has no right to inherit from you;
  • Your child has no right to receive social security benefits based upon your earnings record in the event of your death or disability;
  • You have no legal input in the selection of your child’s last name;
  • You have no right to collect child support;
  • You have no right to collect reimbursement for child-related expenses;
  • You have no right to claim the child as a dependent/exemption for income tax purposes

If you are a mother, here is some of what you are missing:

  • You have no right to collect child support;
  • You have no right to collect reimbursement for child-related expenses;
  • You have no right, as the child’s custodian, to receive social security benefits for the child in the event of the father’s death or disability

In Wisconsin, paternity can be established in one of two ways:  a voluntary acknowledgement of paternity or a formal court adjudication of paternity.  Many of my clients have called the voluntary acknowledgement paperwork the “blue form” they received in the hospital.  This is different from the birth certificate paperwork.   A voluntary acknowledgement has a binding, legal effect and is filed with the State of Wisconsin with other vital records.  For more information on voluntary acknowledgements, visit

If a voluntary acknowledgement is not possible, a court action may be started to have the Court make a formal adjudication of paternity.  Fathers and mothers both have standing to begin a paternity case.   If a parent is receiving public assistance (welfare benefits), the State of Wisconsin will typically file a paternity case in the courts.  Private divorce & family law attorneys, like me, also frequently assist clients in establishing paternity. 

For more information about establishing paternity, visit:

Rising unemployment means that many people are unable to meet their court-ordered obligations.   Recently, The New York Times published an article about the effect of the economic downturn on child support payments. 

In Wisconsin, either parent (the recipient or the payor) may request that the Court review a child support order upon a showing of a substantial change in circumstances.  This means that something significant must occur with respect to the financial situation of either parent in order for the Court to revisit the issue.  The law presumes that a substantial change in circumstances occurred if more than 33 months have passed since the most recent revision of a child support order.

If the parents agree that the child support should be modified, that agreement can and should be made into an enforceable court order.  If the parents do not agree, then the party requesting the change must file a formal motion with the court requesting the change.  Then, the court will hold a hearing to determine whether or not there has been a substantial change in circumstances, and if so, whether or not the support order should be changed.

It is important to note that in the vast majority of circumstances, a Wisconsin Court is not allowed to make retroactive revisions to a child support obligation.  Therefore, time is of the essence if a parent believes he or she is entitled to a change in the support obligation.

Today, I will address how you can organize your research for your future benefit.  You and your colleagues are probably sitting on gold mines of legal scholarship but don’t realize it.  Instead of throwing hours and hours of research into an old banker’s box when you close a file, turn all of that work into a gift to yourself that keeps on giving.  I highly recommend implementing an internal organizational system such as a “brief bank,” which then becomes your own amazing internal research hub. Consider saving not only the compelling briefs and legal memoranda authored by your own attorneys, but well-written briefs received from opposing counsel as well.  Lawyers appreciate having the law supporting both sides of an issue.  A good internal research bank contains material addressing a variety of topics such as deviation from child support standards, the relationship between cohabitation and maintenance, interstate custody issues, and more.


Don’t hesitate to add those “secondary” sources of information.  Often, one can recall reading a great article about something, but cannot locate the article or even recall where one read it.  Well-written articles from periodicals, such as the Wisconsin Journal of Family Law,  can be particularly helpful when there are changes in the law, or when an issue examines a topic in-depth.  Seminar materials, amicus briefs, and more can be incorporated into your internal research bank and make excellent background reading when learning about new topics or updating your research when you have traveled down a certain path before.


            With a computerized case management system and a document scanner, your internal research bank may even be stored electronically.  Then, you have everything in one convenient location for ease of retrieving, reviewing and quickly updating the applicable law and argument into a new document, which brings more efficiency to your practice.    Hopefully, these tips will help you save time, find better information and give you and your team more time to enjoy the fruits of your labor.

When most people in the legal profession think of research, they envision someone in a musty broom closet pouring through ancient editions of the Wisconsin Reports, running endless searches through Westlaw (found at   Sure enough, as a former law clerk and associate, I recall maddening instances of various attorneys directing me to find a case they “knew” existed which allegedly stood for some obscure proposition.

Although it is not always possible to find that magic bullet, there are many resources to help attorneys, their staff and the public better understand the law and the workings of the legal system. This post addresses research in the broad sense, and while not exhaustive, is intended as a guide to help you locate and organize all kinds of useful information in your quest for good results.

Part 1 discusses “primary” sources for legal research, and Part 2 will discuss “secondary” sources of information. Finally, Part 3 will describe how you can use what is right under your nose to create a fantastic research system.

Part 1: Primary Law at your Fingertips

Most anything, including the law, is now available online.  “Law” is essentially a haphazard collection of rules and regulations proscribed by governmental entities. Law ranges from the U.S. Constitution drafted by our Founding Fathers to the Yorkville Code of Ordinances passed by the Town Board of Yorkville, Wisconsin (all at But, any comprehensive research project will no doubt ultimately lead to at least a preliminary search of the Wisconsin Statutes. If you don’t have easy access to a bound set, you can also find them free online at  For most Wisconsin family court matters, Chapter 767 is the best place to begin. 

Appellate case law is another important body of authority to review. Westlaw, Lexis and Lois are commonly-used subscription services for searching Federal and State material, including statutes and case law. There are also online sources of free case law if you do not work for a firm which subscribes to any of these services. For instance, free Wisconsin cases are published online at Findlaw publishes free federal court opinions, including the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Child support is governed both by the Wisconsin Statutes and be regulation. Thus, a review of the Wisconsin Administrative Code is in order, and it is available both in print form and online at   You can find the various child support definitions and formulas used in Wisconsin Courts in Chapter DCF 150 (formerly,  Chapter DWD 40).

In Part 2, coming soon, I will discuss common secondary sources for legal information.