There is a new statutory language in Wisconsin which automatically requires parties with minor children to exchange certain financial information regarding income on May 1st of each calendar year. Pursuant to Wis. Stat. § 767.54, in an action where the court has ordered a party to pay child or family support, both parties must annually exchange tax returns, year end paystubs, a recent paystub and any other documentation regarding income from all sources for the 12 month time period preceding the exchange of information. Even though this is a standard law and provision that is often incorporated into parties’ Marital Settlement Agreements, paternity rulings, and other family law orders, many individuals do not know about this statute or fail to take steps to enforce it.
When working with individuals wanting to modify a child support order, our first question is always “Is your ex making more money than they were at the time of the original order?” Most of the time, the answer is either “I don’t know” or “I know they are making more, but I am not sure how much.” The new statutory language requiring the exchange of income information would assist in answering this question and gives a party the basis for requesting that information. You absolutely must provide documentation regarding your finances, especially if specifically requested by the other party, or they may have a basis to pursue a contempt motion against you and you may even be responsible for paying their attorneys’ fees for bringing forth that action.
The reason for this is that the award of child support may change if there is a substantial change in circumstances which is based upon any increases or decreases in a party’s income. Where one party is awarded primary placement, the other party’s income increases will be of higher importance. Where there is a shared placement schedule, both parties’ changes in income are equally important.
Why don’t parties follow this rule? Many times, parties don’t want to go through the hassle of going back to court or doing the math to calculate a new amount every single year. Others do not feel comfortable directly asking for the other party’s finances or providing their finances to the other party. However, child support is considered as a payment not for a party, but for the child during that party’s placement time. As such, it is important for parties to exchange financial information in this manner to ensure that the child is receiving as much support as needed.
Because many parties do not follow or do not know about this rule, the Child Support Agency often revisits prior child support orders after 33 months have lapsed. The statutes provides that after 33 months, there is a presumption of a substantial change in circumstances upon which a modification of child support may be based. In that case, the Child Support Agency may file a motion to modify child support at that time. By requesting financial information every year, you can assess whether there needs to be a change in child support and can get a start on filing your motion sooner, since the court cannot retroactively award child support prior to the date of service of any such motion. If you want to change a child support order, the best way to maximize the support is by filing as soon as you learn of a substantial change in income. Or, if your circumstances have changed to the extent that you can no longer pay the support you have been ordered to pay due to a reduction or loss of income, you should file a motion as soon as that occurs.