Wisconsin Child Support Laws

Wisconsin child support laws aim to ensure that upkeep laws are enforced, and no child suffers economic hardship from divorce or separation or the lack of a paternity establishment.

That is according to the state’s department of social services.  However, in practice, these laws may, in some scenarios, be ‘unfair’ to one parent.  For example, what happens if you lose your job?  Are there protections to keep you out of jail?

Or what if the obligated parent refuses to pay?

You have a lot of questions related to child support.  Below we explore all the important answers all parents (custodial and non-custodial) in the state must know.

How to apply for child support in Wisconsin

The Wisconsin Department of Children and Families says that all parents in the state receiving or paying upkeep automatically receive Financial management Services and Case Management Services.

Why is that important?

State law requires all upkeep orders include income withholding.  Thus, your order must contain an income withholding order whether you owe past-due support or not. Consequently, the financial services offered by the department aim to guarantee timely payments.  These services include Cash Benefits Program, Tribal Temporary Assistance, Badger Benefits Program, and SSI Caretaker Program.

Whereas case management services include:

  • Non-custodial parent location.
  • Child support enforcement and termination.
  • Paternity establishment.

So, to apply for services, you must create a CSOS (Child Support Online Services) account or download the application form here. You may also apply in person at a local child support office.

What to remember:

  • Parents who have never received cash benefits from Kinship Care, SSI, Caretaker Supplement, AFDC, and so on pay an annual $35 service fee.
  • In Wisconsin, the interest charged on missed/back child support is 5% a month or 6% per year.
  • If you apply for the Badger Care Plus Program, the court may order the father to reimburse the birth cost.
  • If you have questions, you may contact the State Equal Rights Opportunity officer at (800)947-3529.
  • The state treasury will intercept your stimulus payments if you owe back support.

How is paternity established in Wisconsin?

According to the DCF, there are three ways to establish paternity in Wisconsin.  One is via Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgement, where both parents sign the Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment form usually at the hospital, local register of deeds office, or state vital records office.

Two is via court ruling, where either parent petition the court to require the other to take a paternity test.

Three is legitimation or rather acknowledgment of Marital Child.

What to remember:

  • Paternity establishment grants the father the right to submit a parenting plan to the courts. Hence he may ask for custody, and the law will require the custodial parent to inform the father before the custodial parent places the child for adoption.
  • If you are unsure of the child’s paternity, do not sign the Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity (VAP) Form.
  • The court may enter a paternity ruling even if the man accused is not present during the hearing.
  • The VAP form is the same as a court order, meaning when you sign it.  The law requires you to pay child support.
  • If a paternity test conducted by the DCF shows the accused man is the father, he may have to pay for the test.  If not, then he will not have to pay anything.
  • After paternity establishment, the father may ask the court for shared custody.

How is child support determined in Wisconsin?

According to Wisconsin child support laws, where the child(ren) sleeps, along with significant day visits, are the main determinants of Child Support Obligation. 

What do I mean?

State law requires the courts or DCF to use the Standard Percentage Model in dividing parental financial obligation.  The formula based on said model considers a handful of factors, including:

  • The special needs of the child(ren).
  • Yearly gross income(s) of both parents.
  • Custody arrangement.
  • All related factors.

How to calculate child support in Wisconsin

DCF 150.03 Support Orders reads, quote,

“The court shall determine a parent’s monthly income available for child support by adding together the parent’s annual gross income or, if applicable, the parent’s annual income modified for business expenses; the parent’s annual income imputed based on earning capacity; and the parent’s annual income imputed from assets, and dividing that total by 12. This may be done by completing the worksheet in Appendix B, although the use of the worksheet for this purpose is not required.  Except as provided in s. DCF 150.04 (4) and (5), the percentage of the parent’s monthly income available for child support or adjusted monthly income available for child support that constitutes the child support obligation shall be:” (see image below)

DCF 150.03.

That statute means that to calculate child support, the court or DCF must use the worksheets provided.

How does it work?

Download Wisconsin Child support worksheets.

The Wisconsin legislature amended the state’s child support formula in 2018.

 But, quote, “different types of child support calculators (see Linked page), do not reflect the new changes.” Meaning the best option is to consult with a family court attorney.

Also, child support calculators do not always reflect the judge’s final decision. Instead, what you get are estimates.

Wisconsin 2018 child support law changes

  1. Wisconsin child support laws now require that variable expenses, including the cost of tuition, child care expenses, a child’s special needs, and other activities that involve substantial costs, be shared by the parents and determined based on variable costs as agreed by both parties or court order.
  2. The reasonable cost for private health insurance went up from 5% of each parent’s gross income to 10% of each parent’s income.
  3. State law now permits the court to apply the Shared Time in situations where a parent cares for the child during the daytime.

Confused right?

If so, the best option is to consult with a child support attorney in your area.

We will update you when the DCF releases new child support worksheets and Child Support Percentage Conversion Table.

Grounds for child support order deviation in Wisconsin

If a support order is unfair to either parent or if it does not serve the best interests of the child, then the judge may deviate from the Wisconsin child support formula.  Some factors that influence a judge’s decision to deviate are:

  • The financial resources of both parents.
  • The household needs of each party.
  • Extraordinary expenses resulting from a custody arrangement such as travel.
  • The child’s educational, physical, and emotional needs.

How to modify child support in Wisconsin

Wisconsin child support laws require the DCF or court to mail a notice reminding both non-custodial and custodial parents about their right to upkeep review every three years. 

Child support reviews may yield one of three results – an increase, decrease, or in some cases, your order might remain the same if you fail to provide the right argument. 

What do I mean?

To get a review of your support order, you must first request changes in writing.  In your petition, you must show the court or DCF that a substantial and ongoing change in financial circumstances exists that requires modification.  For example, if your employer reduces work hours affecting your income, you may petition for a reduction.

Whereas if the other parent’s income increases, the petitioning parent may request an increase.  On top of that, you may only request a review before the expiration of the three-year waiting period if you experience, as mentioned, a substantial change in circumstances.

What to remember:

  • Only the courts have the authority to change a court order, meaning your review does not start until the court signs the order.
  • You must provide the correct address because the DCF sends review notices by mail. You may call 1-877-253-3686 to report your new address.
  • Parents must report employment changes such as job loss or income loss to the DCF or court within ten days.
  • The DCF does not charge support order review fees.
  • If the parents agree to change the order amount, they must complete form FA-604- Stipulation and Order to Amend Judgement for Support.
  • It may take up to 180 days to complete a support order review.

What happens if you do not pay child support in Wisconsin?

Wisconsin Child Support Laws allow the courts, federal government, or DCF to use the following enforcement tools to ‘encourage’ parents to pay their share.  First, all orders must include income withholding, meaning if you are employed.  Then your employer will garnish monthly support directly from your paycheck.

If income withholding fails, then here is what happens:

  • Administrative liens: child support agencies may place a lien on the delinquent parents’ property, including land, and cars, without a court hearing until you pay.
  • License suspension: child support agencies may request other state agencies to suspend or revoke the delinquent parents’ occupational, driver’s, or professional license.
  • Asset seizure: the DCF may seize the delinquent parents’ bank accounts, including savings, mutual funds, IRAs, and so on, if he/she owes more than $1000.  The agency may also seize real estate property or cars.
  • The DCF or court may also intercept insurance settlements, claims, lumpsum pension payments, or personal injury settlements.
  • Credit bureau reporting: the DCF may also report the delinquent parent to credit bureaus.

What to remember:

  • A payment plan will not stop the DCF from placing your name on the lien docket.
  • You may contact the DCF via 608-422-6250 to report income changes.
  • Informal agreements are unenforceable; thus, all agreements must be in writing and approved by the court to be enforceable.

Contempt of court VS. criminal nonsupport charges in Wisconsin

Willful failure to pay child support in Wisconsin may result in contempt of court charges or criminal nonsupport.  Contempt of court charges require the delinquent parent to show up in court to explain his failure. 

Failure to provide “good cause” may result in fines or jail time depending on the level of delinquency.  The court may also order community service or place the parent on a work-release program.  Remember, jail time is often the court’s last course of action because it hinders the parents’ ability to pay, and it often results when facing “criminal contempt” charges.

Criminal nonsupport is a class A misdemeanor in Wisconsin.  A crime that carries a maximum sentence of 9 months at the county jail and or a $10000 fine.

When does child support end in Wisconsin?

18 is the age of emancipation in Wisconsin; however, your child support payments may continue until the child graduates high schoolHence your obligation may terminate on the child’s 19th birthday or continue indefinitely if the child is severely mentally or physically disabled.

Wisconsin emancipation laws

Wisconsin child support laws allow minors to request emancipation before reaching 18 through an emancipation proceeding.  However, the minor must have a legal source of income, live separately from their guardians, and must be able to handle their affairs.

You may also seek emancipation through marriage or by joining the US army.

More Wisconsin Laws

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