Imputing Income for Child Support in Wisconsin

Find out why and how courts in Wisconsin will impute income for child support purposes.

The Great Recession has caused many families to suffer economic hardship and job loss. While there are those parents who were laid off from jobs for reasons outside of their control, there are also deadbeat parents who go so far as to quit good jobs to avoid their child support obligations. What the latter group of parents may not know is that  even when a job ends, a parent’s duty to financially support their child continues.

Parents that shirk their financial responsibilities to their children ultimately hurts not only themselves, but also their children. Wisconsin courts are prepared to deal with these types of situations and can impute income to parents who try to avoid their child support obligations.

This article provides a general overview of how and under what circumstances courts will impute income for child support purposes in Wisconsin. If after reading this article, you still have questions about imputing income, you should contact a local family law attorney for advice.

Overview of Child Support Orders

Wisconsin maintains state guidelines for calculating child support based upon the parents’ gross monthly incomes. For child support purposes, a parent’s income includes, but isn’t limited to their salary, wages, overtime, commissions, tips, severance pay, bonuses, dividends, social security and capital gains. The following represents the percentage of a parent’s income assigned to child support:

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

When a court determines that a parent is voluntarily earning less than they could or should be earning, the court may impute or assign, additional income to that parent, increasing their child support obligation accordingly. See  Child Support Laws In Wisconsin  to learn more.

What Is Imputed Income?

After reviewing the above factors, a court may elect to impute, or assign, additional income to a parent beyond what the parent presently earns. Wisconsin courts can impute income when a parent is unemployed, not working full-time or earning less than their full potential based upon the parent’s employment history and qualifications. This can include both voluntary unemployment or underemployment situations.


A parent is underemployed when that parent takes an action that negatively affects their earning potential or income. This can include refusing a promotion, delaying a bonus or commission or quitting a well-paying job to pursue low-level employment. In determining whether an underemployment situation exists, Wisconsin courts will review the parent’s job history, education, health and age and decide whether the parent could produce more income with a reasonable amount of effort. The court will also review the following factors to determine if an increased child support award is appropriate:

  • parents' financial resources
  • parent’s needs
  • parent’s standard of living
  • parent’s pre-existing support orders and other dependents
  • parent’s child care costs
  • child’s educational needs, and
  • child’s best interests.

Voluntary Unemployment

A parent is voluntarily unemployed when the parent is physically able to work but simply chooses not to. However, a parent dealing with a chronic illness or disabled, or a parent that cares full-time for a dependent child or adult is not necessarily voluntarily unemployed. Rather, a voluntary unemployment situation exists in situations where a parent quits their job, is intentionally terminated, or is laid off but refuses to seek new employment.

How Do Courts Determine How Much Income to Impute?

Once a court has determined that a parent could and should be earning more due to a voluntary unemployment or underemployment situation, the court will review the parent’s employment history and education as well as financial information such as prior tax returns, check stubs or other relevant financial information. If no financial information is available for the allegedly underemployed or voluntarily unemployed parent, the court will impute a full-time minimum wage income to that parent.

However, even after the court has made a decision to impute income to a parent, either parent may file documents to decrease or increase the amount imputed to a parent based upon clear evidence.


Wisconsin maintains a state website to help parents who want to file a child support modification action on their own at If you have other questions about imputing income for purposes of child support in Wisconsin contact an experienced family law attorney for assistance.

For more information on the factors considered in child support modification actions and imputing income in Wisconsin, see Wisconsin Administrative Code, Department of Children and Families, Chapter DCF 150, et seq.

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