Remarriage and Child Support in Wisconsin

Learn how remarriage affects child support in Wisconsin.

By , Retired Judge

If you're divorced in Wisconsin, and have children from your prior marriage, it's likely that you have a child support order in place. If you're thinking of remarrying, you may wonder if that will somehow affect support obligations. This article should shed some light on the issue of remarriage and child support in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin Child Support Basics

Wisconsin has established rules providing a standard for courts to use in determining child support. Under the rules, the support obligation is based on a percentage of each parent's gross income and assets. The amount of time the child spends with each parent may be considered as well.

The support order identifies a fixed amount to be paid. However, if the parties meet certain requirements, they can agree to express the support amount as a percentage of the support payer's income. The order will also contain a determination of which parent will take the tax emption for a child. Finally, the court must assign responsibility for the child's health care expenses.

More information about the guidelines and awarding of child support can be found at the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families website.

Imputed Income in Certain Cases

If a court finds that a parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, it can attribute or "impute" income to that parent. The court will assess how much income to impute based on a number of factors, such as:

  • education and training
  • recent work experience
  • earnings during previous periods
  • current physical and mental health, and
  • availability of work in or near the parent's community.

If the parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, there doesn't have to be bad faith for the court to impute income. For example, in one Wisconsin case, a mother who was paying child support left her job to stay home with a new child from her second marriage. The court held that, even though she didn't stop working to avoid paying support (no bad faith), the fact that she'd voluntarily left was enough to impute income to her.

Modifying Child Support

A child support order can be changed if you're able to prove a substantial change in circumstances. Some of the situations that may give rise to such a change in circumstances include, among others:

  • either parent receiving Aid to Families with Dependent Children, or participating in Wisconsin Works, since the entry of the last child support order
  • a change in the payer's income (unless the order lists the amount of child support as a percentage of parental income, rather than a fixed amount)
  • a change in the child's needs
  • a change in the payer's earning capacity, and
  • any other factor that the court determines is relevant.

The question now is, does remarriage qualify as a substantial change in circumstances that would justify modifying a child support order?

Remarriage May Have an Effect on Child Support

Ordinarily, remarriage alone is not enough to change a child support order. The reason is that your new spouse doesn't have an obligation to support your children from a prior relationship. That holds true in Wisconsin. But there are certain aspects of remarriage that may impact child support.

A New Child May Be Considered By the Court

Wisconsin law provides that the arrival of a new child (second family) doesn't entitle the paying parent to anautomatic child support reduction. However, the court may consider the needs of any person whom the parent is legally obligated to support. A new child obviously falls into this category. Therefore, the cost involved with raising a new child seems to be a legitimate factor in a parent's overall argument for modification of an existing support order.

A New Spouse's Income Is Also a Factor

A new spouse's income can't be used to satisfy a support order, since that spouse has no obligation for support, as mentioned above. But the law indicates that a new spouse's income is relevant in determining a payer spouse's ability to pay support. What's the connection? Well, for example, in all likelihood your new spouse is paying a portion of the household expenses, such as mortgage or rent, utilities and groceries. That frees up some of your individual income, thus leaving more of your income available for child support.

The issue of remarriage and child support in Wisconsin is a complicated one. This article is only meant as an overview of the topic. If you find yourself in this situation, be sure to consult with a qualified family lawyer as to any questions you may have.

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