Chen v. Warner

695 N.W.2d 758 (2005)

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Chen v. Warner

Wisconsin Supreme Court
695 N.W.2d 758 (2005)

  • Written by Sharon Feldman, JD

Facts

Jane Chen (plaintiff) and John Warner (defendant) had three children and divorced after 18 years of marriage. At the time, both Chen and Warner were employed full-time as physicians. Neither had to pay child support, but Warner was ordered to make monthly education-fund contributions. After the divorce, Chen wanted to be more available for the children. Chen consulted a financial advisor who calculated the income Chen could expect from her investments. Chen was not permitted to work part-time and left her position. Chen’s decision enabled her to take the children to doctors’ appointments and extracurricular activities, volunteer at their school, monitor their activities, and communicate more with teachers. Chen’s income fell when the stock market declined. Chen tried but could not find part-time employment within commuting distance. Chen moved to amend the divorce judgment to obtain child support. Warner was earning twice what he earned when the couple divorced and had an employer-funded retirement account, substantial assets, and discretionary monthly income of $12,000. The circuit court ordered Warner to pay child support but excused the education-fund obligation. The net effect was to require Warner to pay an additional $2,800 per month. On appeal, Warner argued that because Chen shirked her child-support obligation, the court should have considered Chen’s earning capacity rather than her actual earnings. The court of appeals affirmed the circuit court’s decision. The Wisconsin Supreme Court granted review.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Abrahamson, C.J.)

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