child support
Closeup of mallet being hit on stacked coins at table in courtroom

Divorce is a stressful and sometimes nasty experience for anyone, but when children are in the mix, child support can make it far more complicated.

When dealing with custody and child support tempers can flare, especially if the split wasn’t amicable to begin with. It’s important to protect the children from the disagreements of the parents, but how does all of this work?

It’s confusing and that confusion can often prompt arguments and full-on fighting. We’re here to help you out so that you don’t have to get to that point. 

If you’re separating from your spouse in Madison, Wisconsin, we have some of the answers for you.

Keep reading to learn more. 

First: On Custody

When two parents are no longer married (or no longer living together, depending on circumstances) there have to be custody agreements put into place. These custody agreements then create a path toward determining child support payments. 

The judge wants to give the results that work in the child’s best interest regardless of how the parents feel. This isn’t a perfect process, but the judge will work to the best of their ability to satisfy all parties while giving priority to the child.

In many cases, custody that is split equally is the best choice according to the judge. In other cases, custody may be unequally split in favor of one parent while the other gets weekends or holidays.

Sometimes custody goes to one parent while the other only gets visitation.

The parent with majority custody is the custodial parent. If both parents have equally-split custody, they are both custodial parents. 

This information is important.

What Is Child Support?

Child support is money given by one parent to the other solely for the support of the child or children from that union. 

Unlike alimony which is for the support of the former spouse, child support is only to be used for items, programs, activities, care, and more that benefit the child directly. 

The goal of the judge is to ensure that the child’s quality of life isn’t drastically reduced as a result of the divorce. Finances are a major issue when a couple splits, so to alleviate some of that inequality, child support is given (generally until the child is of age). 

Who Pays Child Support? 

This is where it gets complicated.

Child support is most often paid by the non-custodial parent. This means that if one parent only has visitation rights, or if they have a very small amount of time taking care of the children, that parent will likely be paying the full amount of child support.

In other words, if your former partner has a majority or full custody, you should expect that you will be paying. 

This gets complicated when it comes to parents with equally-split custody. Do custodial parents still have to pay child support? 

Well, it depends.

Again, the judge’s primary concern is the quality of life of the child. If custody is split equally, the judge wants to make sure that both parents are able to provide equal care. This often includes finances. 

In many cases, both parents are working and have relatively equal incomes. Under this circumstance, it’s likely that there will be no necessary child support. 

However, if one parent only works part-time or spent the marriage as a homemaker or stay-at-home parent, that changes

There’s a clear inequality when one parent did all of the caretaking at home while the other was able to go out and work, go to college, and advance their career. It’s not uncommon for newly single parents to have trouble finding work when they were previously homemakers. 

For this reason, if there is a severe inequality, one custodial parent may still have to pay child support to the other in order to equal out the experiences of both households. 

How are Payments Determined?

There are a few factors that a judge will consider when determining the amount of payments that a parent must make. 

First, they’ll look at the take-home money that the parent earns through their career. They’ll also look at the number of children that require support. 

Wisconsin uses the flat percentage model for determining child support. This means that the same percentage will be taken from wages regardless of their annual income.

Adjustments may be able to be made through mediation, but this is the basic calculation. 

What If Payments aren’t Made? 

When the non-custodial parent doesn’t pay child support, the other parent does not have the right to withhold the child from them. 

Regardless of whether it’s a shared custody situation or a visitation situation, both parents retain their rights to see their children even if child support isn’t paid. 

The custodial parent can, however, take this to the judge and file a report. The court can take legal action against the underpaying parent. This may include garnishment of wages, a contempt order, jail time, or more. 

As long as the custodial parent is willing to file the order, they will get the money if the money is available.

If the other parent isn’t paying due to a change in finances, then the plan must be restructured through the court. Payment plans must be adjusted, rather than not pay it at all. 

Related Article: Wisconsin Child Support Calculators & Worksheets

Custody and Child Support: Takeaways

Child support is complicated and negotiating it can be stressful. It doesn’t have to turn into a fight if you keep calm and collected and you do your research beforehand. 

It’s important to remember that these payments are in the interest of the child. You cannot weaponize child support (or lack thereof) against your spouse. 

To learn more, or to find legal support for your divorce in Madison, Wisconsin, contact us today.