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Wis. Stat. § 767.25(1m)(b) (2001-02) states that in modifying the amount of child support from the percentage standard, a circuit court considers the financial resources of both parents. Section 767.25(1m)(bp) states that in modifying the amount of child support from the percentage standard, a circuit court considers the needs of each party in order to support himself or herself at a level equal to or greater than the federal poverty level.
The case arose out of a post-divorce motion to modify child support. Petitioner Jane E. Chen and respondent-appellant John J. Warner were divorced after an 18-year marriage. They had 3 children. The judgment of divorce incorporated the parties' agreement, it provided for joint custody and equal physical placement. It also provided that neither party would pay child support to the other; each would be responsible for the children's daily expenses when they were in his or her care. Respondent, however, was to pay $ 400 per child per month into a fund for the children's future education. Petitioner’s investment income was enough to support her and their children. However, when the stock market declined, it took a toll on petitioner’s income. Petitioner then filed a motion to amend the divorce judgment to require respondent father to pay child support. She asserted a substantial change in circumstances to justify a child support award. Her income had diminished substantially; while the appellant father’s income had increased. The circuit court modified the child support obligation in favor of petitioner, and the court of appeal affirmed. Appellant father appealed and argued that the trial court erred in its decision because petitioner was shirking by staying at home with the children rather than seeking outside employment.
Did the lower courts err in modifying the child support obligation in favor of petitioner mother?
No. The judgment was affirmed.
The court disagreed with the appellant’s contention that plaintiff was shirking by staying at home with the children rather than seeking outside employment. The court held that at the time of her decision, plaintiff was advised by a professional financial advisor that she could expect investment income of about $ 110,000 per year, an amount sufficient to support herself and fund her share of the children's support. The children would get the same level of support, and no additional financial burden would be placed on the father. On the other, appellant father's ability to make increased expenditures for the children was unusually high. As a result, the effect of increased support on the father's standard of living and financial picture was negligible. The court found that appellant father had monthly discretionary income of $ 12,000, over and above his monthly expenses and retirement savings. Thus, he could pay the court-ordered increased child support a month without any significant impact on his finances.