State advisory committee objected to changing child support payment rules

December 20, 2016

A committee advising the state on child custody rules has urged the state not to limit the amount of money wealthy parents pay in child support.

Despite the recommendation made in a 2015 report, Gov. Scott Walker’s administration is seeking to reduce how much money wealthy parents pay in child support.

The recommendations from the Child Support Guidelines Advisory Committee were provided to the Wisconsin State Journal on Tuesday by the Department of Children and Families prior to a hearing by the agency on the way the state handles child support and child placement, including a proposal to reduce the percentage of monthly income that is paid in child support by wealthy parents who make between $300,000 and $500,000 annually.

A judge would be responsible for determining what percentage of income would be paid in child support for parents who earn more than $500,000 annually under the proposal.

A DCF official referred the Wisconsin State Journal on Monday to the agency’s communications staff. Spokesman Joe Scialfa provided the committee report Tuesday, saying the was not in the office Monday and could not respond to questions.

The proposal is similar to legislation Rep. Joel Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc, introduced in 2013 that sought to ban judges from using income above $150,000 to calculate child-support payments — a controversial and ultimately unsuccessful bill that was co-written by a wealthy, divorced campaign donor.

The bill was at least the second time Kleefisch introduced legislation aimed at helping multimillionaire businessman and GOP donor Michael Eisenga reduce what he pays in child support: a minimum $15,000 a month for his three children.

It was withdrawn amid significant pushback in January of 2014. Later that year, DCF convened a committee of lawmakers, county child support officials, the State Bar of Wisconsin, judges and other child support and child placement advocates to draft recommendations for changes.

A report submitted to the DCF in September 2015 says the committee “strongly recommends no change” to the way the state calculates child support for wealthy parents. In a DCF analysis of the proposed changes, the department says the proposals were developed in response to the committee’s work.

In the 2015 report, the committee said if the department had the desire to make changes to the high-income formula, the committee suggested making the changes the department ultimately proposed.

But the committee said members were “very uncomfortable” recommending those proposals.

“Economic data shows that as income rises above certain high-income levels, families spend a lower percentage of their gross income on their children, but the small number of these high income families is statistically insignificant. There is, therefore, no data demonstrating a specific income level at which this occurs,” the report said. “The Committee, therefore, was very uncomfortable with recommending any of the proposals, given that research does not exist to substantiate a change in the high-income formula.”

To avoid eliminating a standard percentage of income that should be paid for high income, the committee said they therefore chose a high-income starting point for further reduction at $300,000 annual gross income, which is in line with other states’ practices, the committee noted.

Scialfa, spokesman for the DCF, said child custody is an issue that affects “hundreds of thousands of families in Wisconsin and the Department felt it deserved a thorough review by affected parties and policy makers and would benefit from broad public input.”

He did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the committee’s concerns about changing the high income formula.

A public hearing on the proposals is set for 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday in the GEF-1 building at 201 E. Washington Ave in room H206.