Child Support Calculation Basics – Primary, Shared, Split, and Serial Placement

Every parent knows that raising a child is expensive.  Clothing, diapers, school fees, extracurricular activities, daycare, and a myriad of other costs mount up quickly.  After a divorce or custody action, the parents will have to divide parenting time as well as the expenses associated with raising the child.  Child support is designed to help the custodial parent be able to continue to provide for the child’s daily needs.  Wisconsin has specific laws providing how child support is to be calculated, and several factors are taken into account.  There are four basic ways support is calculated, depending on whether the placement order is classified as primary, shared, split, or serial.

If a parent has 75% or more of the overnight placement with the child, that parent is considered “primary.”  In such a case, the other parent’s income alone will be considered for support.    Income is not defined as solely the money a parent receives from a regular job.  Income from many different sources can and will be taken into account, such as annuity payments, rental income, or funds from a side job, just to name a few examples.  However, funds received from certain sources will not be included, such as child support received for other children, or public assistance funds.  Once the parent’s gross income has been determined, the court will then look to the guidelines as established by Wisconsin statute.  According to the guidelines, particular percentages are applied to the paying parent’s income, depending on how many children are subject to the order, ranging from 17% (one child) to 34% (5 children or more). A person receiving maximum support in a primary placement scenario will then be fully responsible for 100% of the child’s “variable” expenses (out of pocket expenses for school, daycare, extra curriculars, etc.).

If both parents have at least 25% of the overnight placements with the child, the placement is considered “shared,” and support will be calculated differently.   This method takes both parents’ incomes into account, and the child’s variable costs will be shared in accordance with the percentage of time each parent has placement with the child. Split placement means that the parents share at least two children.  In split-placement situations, one parent is the primary parent for one child while the other parent is the primary parent for the other child.  As with shared parenting, each parent’s income must be calculated.  However, as in primary placement, there is a percentage to be applied to each parent’s income depending on the number of children placed with each respective parent.  The resulting support order for each parent will then be offset, with the parent who would have been ordered to pay the higher amount to pay the difference to the other parent.

Finally, if a parent has children with more than one family for whom he or she pays support, the child support order will be adjusted due to the paying parent having “serial families.”  In such a case, the court can adjust the paying parent’s existing child support orders to take into account that he or she now has the legal obligation to provide financial support for another child.  Generally, his/her income is reduced by the first child support obligation before the second obligation is calculated.

Child support can be a complicated inquiry.  We have extensive experience in helping our clients understand the process and help set them on the right path to reach their goals. Contact us today for a consultation.

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