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The number of child support orders a proposed change to child support rules for wealthy parents is fewer than 150. 

A proposal from Gov. Scott Walker’s administration to reduce the amount of child support wealthy parents pay could affect less than one-tenth of one percent of the state’s parents paying child support.

An estimated 123 child support orders, out of more than 315,000 statewide, are for parents who earn more than $300,000 as of December, according to an analysis from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau requested by Sen. LaTonya Johnson, D-Milwaukee. The orders cover an estimated 259 children, according to the LFB.

The Department of Children and Families has proposed a rule to reduce the amount of child support paid by parents who earn between $300,000 and $500,000. Under the proposal, parents would be required to pay a smaller percentage of their monthly income in child support than what current law prescribes.

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.

“Are the taxpayers really willing to sit down to pay for (the state) to come up with these ideas, of trying to give those who could afford to pay more the opportunity to pay less?” Johnson said. “As a taxpayer myself, if that’s what you’re investing your time on, then that’s a waste — especially when you have so many other families who are struggling to pay. It makes no sense.”

The committee convened by the DCF that produced a report that spurred the proposal also recommended changing the rules for low-income parents, including giving judges the ability to assign child support levels for parents who are unemployed based on the employment opportunities in the parent’s community.

According to the LFB analysis, courts have discretion to deviate from the law’s guidelines and there are exceptions to the guidelines, so the actual number of cases where the payer’s annual income exceeds $300,000 may differ from the estimate by an unknown amount.

According to the DCF, the number of child support orders enforced by a child support agency as of Dec. 31 — the most recent data available — is 315,689. But that number could be larger because not all orders are enforced by a child support agency.

The changes, currently under review by the DCF and Walker, are similar to a proposal made by a Republican lawmaker three years ago that was withdrawn amid significant pushback.

A spokesman for Walker did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Child support varies

The percentage of a parent’s monthly income that is paid in child support varies according to how much money a parent makes annually.

For one child, for example, current law allows courts to require 17 percent of income of $84,000 or less to be paid in child support. The percentage increases with more children, maxing out at 34 percent for five or more children. On the high end, if the parent’s income exceeds $150,000 annually, 10 percent of the remaining income amount is to be paid in child support for one child and 20 percent for five or more children.

The proposed change would introduce a sliding scale to reduce the percentage of income between $300,000 and $500,000 that would be paid, ranging from 10 percent to 5 percent, respectively, for one child. For five or more children, the scale ranges from 20 percent to 10 percent.

The DCF also proposes requiring parents to supply courts with detailed lists of potential costs related to their children that go beyond basic care — known as variable costs — at the time child support is ordered, and prohibiting those costs from being included in the child support order.

DCF spokesman Joe Scialfa said in December that the DCF convened the committee because child support is something 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.”

The committee, called the Child Support Guidelines Advisory Committee, urged the state last year not to reduce the amount of money wealthy Wisconsin parents pay in child support, however.

Its report noted there is “considerable pressure in the Legislature from high- income payer advocates to amend Wisconsin’s high-income formula” in order to bring the state’s formula in line with other states, and that judges already have the discretion to place a portion of child support in a trust for college expenses.

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Molly Beck covers politics and state government for the Wisconsin State Journal.