In recent Wisconsin news, a local resident Michael Eisenga is accused of helping a Wisconsin state legislator (Representative Joel Kleefisch) write a controversial bill that would benefit high income child support payers and, specifically, himself.
As reported in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on January 11, 2014 (see article here), the timing of the bill, the drafting contributions from Eisenga, and the financial contribution from Eisenga to the drafter, are drawing the most negative attention from the press. The bill was presented just two months after Eisenga’s most recent attempt to lower his child support payment. According to the above article, Eisenga has attempted several times in the past and been unsuccessful. Additionally, the article listed above states “in a set of drafting documents, Eisenga and his attorney, William A. Smiley, can be seen offering line-by-line instructions in emails, notes and letters to Rep. Joel Kleefisch’s staff on a bill aimed at capping how much high earners pay in child support.” Last, but not least, the article exposes Eisenga as a major contributor to Representative Joel Kleefisch, the Wisconsin state legislator who drafted the bill and to his wife, Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch.
Regardless of the motivation of this bill, the impact of a bill like this has drawn a significant amount of attention of family law attorneys and people affected by child support laws.
In Wisconsin, a child support award must be set based on a percentage of the payer’s gross income, except for in certain circumstances when the court may deviate from these percentage standards based on certain factors set forth in the statute. The “normal” child support obligations are as follows for income up to $7,000 per month:
17% for one child
25% for 2 children
29% for 3 children
31% for 4 children
34% for 5 or more children
However, our child support system also allows for a deviation from the standard percentage amount of child support in the event a payer has high income. The higher the income, the more credit a payor may receive in the amount of child support he or she may have to pay. For example, if a payer’s monthly income available for child support is greater than or equal to $7,000 and less than or equal to $12,500, the percentage guidelines for that amount of income change to:
14% for one child
20% for 2 children
23% for 3 children
25% for 4 children
27% for 5 or more children
If payer’s monthly income available for child support is greater than $12,500, the percentage guidelines change to:
10% for one child
15% for 2 children
17% for 3 children
19% for 4 children
20% for 5 or more children
For example, if a payer has 2 children and gross monthly income of $13,000 per month, he or she would owe $1,750 (25% of $7,000 of income), $1,100 (20% of income between $7,000 and $12,500) and $85 (15% of $500 of additional income over $12,500), for a total of $2,935 per month.
The proposed bill Eisenga desired would have capped the income from which a percentage is drawn for child support at $150,000 per year. This would have taken away the discretion of the court in these high-income cases to determine support and also would have given a substantial break to high income earners by capping income available for support. Making such a modification to the current child support system (which has no cap) would sharply limit the amount of support paid by the highest income earners in Wisconsin.
The bill has since been withdrawn by Representative Joel Kleefisch and therefore the current child support laws remain as is. However, given the press regarding this proposed bill, both positive and negative, it is likely that a bill regarding this issue will surface again in the future.