Child Support Enforcement in Wisconsin

Learn how child support orders are enforced and payments are collected in Wisconsin.

Even after a breakup or divorce, most parents are happy to pay for their children’s expenses. Unfortunately, a small minority of parents can't or won't pay their child's way.

This article will explain how child support is enforced in the State of Wisconsin. If you have any questions about child support enforcement after you read this article, you should  contact a family law attorney for advice.

Establishing Child Support

A child support order is an official government order that states who is responsible for paying for the basic care and medical support of children. Typically, the “noncustodial parent,” who spends less time with the children, is required to make regular child support payments to the “custodial parent” (the parent who cares for the children a majority of the time). This ensures that both parents pay their fair share of the total expenses.

Many couples who have split up are nonetheless able to agree informally on important issues like child support. These informal agreements are sometimes written out and sometimes just spoken aloud. But the problem with these kinds of informal agreements is that they’re legally unenforceable, meaning that if the noncustodial parent becomes “delinquent” or a “deadbeat” (meaning, the parent doesn’t pay child support), state agencies and the courts won’t be able to intervene. To create a legally enforceable child support order, you need to go to court and ask the judge to make your agreement part of the formal child support order. Once the agreement is made formal, it can be enforced by the authorities.

Keep in mind that if you and the other parent can’t agree about child support, you’ll still need an order. You’ll have to go to court and ask the judge to issue an order that sets the amount and schedule for child support.

For a detailed discussion of how child support is calculated and who renders a support decision, please see  Child Support Laws in Wisconsin  by Teresa Wall-Cyb.

Once a child support order has been issued, both parents have to obey it. If the noncustodial parent fails or refuses to pay, the custodial parent has several options to make the delinquent parent comply.

Enforcing Child Support in Family Court

If a noncustodial parent has become delinquent and isn’t making payments according to the child support order, the custodial parent has the right to return to court and file an enforcement action. An enforcement action asks the judge to make the delinquent parent follow the support order and make the required payments. Custodial parents can either file this action on their own and represent themselves in court, or they can hire a private attorney.

The judge has several choices in these situations. It’s not uncommon for judges to fine or jail delinquent parents for “contempt of court” (meaning, the delinquent parent disobeyed a court order – in this case, a child support order). A judge might also require a delinquent parent to pay a portion of the outstanding child support as a condition of being released from jail. Noncustodial parents can avoid all these outcomes by paying their support in full and on time.

State Enforcement of Child Support in Wisconsin

Within Wisconsin's Department of Children and Families is a special unit called the Child Support Program (CSP). CSP is tasked with providing child support services to both custodial and noncustodial parents. Federal and state law require the CSP to provide these services, including:

  • establishing paternity of children born to unmarried couples (example: through genetic testing)
  • collecting and processing child support payments
  • helping employers to withhold income from parents with support obligations
  • locating parents who've disappeared, and
  • establishing, modifying, and enforcing child and medical support obligations.

If you need to get in touch with CSP, you can find contact information  here  or else you can speak with your  local office. You can also read through  official forms, brochures, and other publications, all sorted by topic.

How Judges and the State Collect Overdue Payments in Wisconsin

Realize that if you don't pay your child support exactly as ordered, family court judges and CSP have an impressive arsenal of legal and financial weapons they can use to collect the money from you - without your consent or compliance. Their goal is to extract payment from parents with “arrearages” (past-due child support accounts). The tools that the courts and CSP can use include:

  • filing a lien against real property (buildings and land) and titled property (like motor vehicles, boats, and recreational vehicles)
  • reporting arrearages and liens to the credit bureaus, which can lower credit scores
  • ensuring that state agencies don’t give any loans or grants to the delinquent parent, including student loans and certain mortgages
  • suspending the delinquent parent’s driver’s license if the parent falls three months behind
  • taking away lump sum pension payments, judgments and lawsuit settlements
  • bringing certain cases back to court and asking a judge to initiate contempt proceedings
  • seizing bank accounts and retirement accounts if child support is three months or $1000 past due, and
  • seizing land and titled property if child support is six months past due.

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