Frequently Asked Questions
The State of Wisconsin is an interested party for purposes of establishing paternity, securing reimbursement of benefits paid, setting support orders, and recovering costs in some actions affecting the family. Specifically, these include cases where a party has completed application for legal services from the Child Support Agency; certain actions to establish paternity after referral that no father is listed on the birth certificate; and cases where children or their parents receive (or had received) certain types of public benefits.
Where the State of Wisconsin is an interested party, the Child Support Agency may seek child support obligations to ensure parents fulfill their financial responsibilities to their children. The State may seek to reimburse the taxpayers or ensure that the parents relieve taxpayers from some or all support of the child, if the parents are able to do so. This may, under most circumstances, be without the agreement or approval of either or both parents. With public benefits in place, the taxpayers have an interest to ensure that all available resources are being utilized for the care of the children, which includes child support.
Child support payments go through the Wisconsin Support Collection Trust Fund (WI-SCTF), unless ordered otherwise. You can access your account information at any time if you set up an on-line account with the Department of Children and Families Child Support Online Services. The account displays information on payments and balances, and payers can use the website to print payment coupons. Payments may take a few days to process through the system, depending on their source.
Child support orders are almost always expressed as a fixed dollar amount, although they may have been set up as a percent amount if the State of Wisconsin was not an interested party at the time. If your ex is ordered to pay a monthly amount based on his/her income, that order stays in place until it is adjusted or modified by court order or an agreement of all parties involved, which agreement is approved by the court.
If the payer has a substantial change in income, or if other circumstances substantially change, you or your ex may be able to make a motion to modify the child support order. You can do so on your own, or you can request that the Child Support Agency review the case for modification if the State of Wisconsin is an interested party. Unless everyone agrees and the court signs off on the agreement, the motion will likely go to a court hearing and the appropriate child support amount will be determined based on your and your ex’s financial information. The new amount will again be a fixed dollar amount based on the payer’s income.
Tax refunds may be intercepted to repay child support obligations. A payer’s federal or state tax return may be intercepted and applied to past-due child support and/or birth expenses. The payer will receive notice from the Department of the Treasury and the State of Wisconsin Department of Revenue when any amount of a tax return is intercepted. The notice will indicate how much was intercepted and where the money was sent.
Child support obligations are orders of the court. If a party disregards an order of the court, that individual may be found in contempt and could face jail time as a sanction. There are also criminal penalties for intentional failure to pay child support over a period of time.
In cases where the State of Wisconsin is an interested party, the Child Support Agency will generally file an order to show cause and motion for a finding of contempt if a payer fails to pay the ordered amount. The court will set a hearing on the order to show cause and the payer will be required to attend and explain why he/she has not complied with the order of the court. If the failure to pay was intentional, the court may find that the payer is in contempt and order purge conditions that give the payer a chance to get back into compliance with the court’s orders. If other factors caused the payer to fail in his/her obligation, including unemployment or disability, the court may make additional orders to ensure that the payer is not shirking his/her responsibility. If the payer fails to show up, or if the court is satisfied that the payer is shirking his/her responsibility, the court may find him/her in contempt and order purge conditions.
When a court sets purge conditions, the court will describe a penalty for failure to comply with the purge conditions. This may include a fine and/or up to six months in jail for contempt of court. When a payer has failed to comply with the purge conditions, the penalty will go into effect. The court will state a purge amount that will return the payer to compliance with the court order. If the payer successfully gets back in compliance with the court order, he/she may be released from confinement.
Where a payer continually fails to pay child support for a number of months, the Child Support Agency may consider a criminal referral for one or more counts of failure to pay support under Wis. Stat. s. 948.22.
Although missed payments are one way that arrears may accrue, some arrears balances come and go by the nature of a payer’s paychecks. Child support balances accrue monthly, and any amount of current support that isn’t collected by the end of the month moves into the category of arrears. Frequently, the monthly order does not match up with the payer’s pay cycles. Someone paid once per week may get four paychecks in a month or five, depending on the month. The monthly support order is always the same. Those months with four paychecks, the payer will fall short. Those with five, the payer will catch back up. This happens similarly for bi-weekly pay periods.
Other reasons for arrears accruing may include a processing delay in submitting your original order, a missed or reduced pay period due to unpaid – or underpaid – leave, or an order that backdates to the date of a motion – which may create a balance immediately. Although your employer’s cooperation is very helpful in keeping up with your child support obligation, courts will hold you responsible for any unpaid balance. You should review your balances from time to time and contact the Child Support Agency to address any outstanding balances before they become difficult to manage. Administrative enforcement remedies are available to the Child Support Agency even if your arrears balance is only $500.
Always take court paperwork very seriously. Ensure that you read the papers thoroughly to know what is being requested of you. Frequently, your court papers will tell you what to bring to the hearing. If you do not understand the papers, you should seek legal assistance – either an attorney who can answer your questions or represent you, or a legal clinic that may be able to explain things for you and help in other ways. The Child Support Agency is not allowed to give out legal advice to any parties because we do not represent either party in your case. Similarly, the court will not give legal advice to you.
In Ozaukee County, the clerk of courts maintains a family law assistance center at the Justice Center. It is located across the hall from Branch 2, next to the District Attorney’s office, and is open on Wednesdays from 11:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. Other counties may have similar resources available through their courts, bar associations, or through the law schools.
If you are unable to find an attorney, the State Bar of Wisconsin offers a Lawyer Referral and Information Service (LRIS) that may help you get in touch with an attorney to answer your questions or represent you. The LRIS can be reached from 8:10 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. at 800-362-9082 or 608-257-4666, or any time online. Participating attorneys agree to charge no more than $20 for the first consultation, up to one half hour.
If you lose your job, or you lose hours at your job, it is very important to stay in communication with the Child Support Agency. If we do not have information coming to us, we have to prepare for the worst scenario – which could lead to enforcement actions against you. Unless you bring a successful motion for modification, the child support order will remain in place as ordered and it will accrue arrears as payments are unfulfilled.
Depending on the reason for your job loss, you may be eligible for unemployment. Unemployment can be used to fulfill your child support obligation by income withholding – at least in part. Any amount that is not received from an unemployment income withholding will accrue as arrears, unless you send in payments to make up the difference.
If your job loss was due to injury or disability, you may be eligible for benefits through Social Security that could provide a benefit to your child, thereby fulfilling part or all of your support obligation.
If you have other means available to continue paying while you search for a job, the Child Support Agency can help you submit those payments to the WI-SCTF for credit and distribution. Although a partial payment will not relieve you of your obligations or stop enforcement proceedings, we encourage those payers going through a hardship to regularly pay what they are able in order to continue regular payments and avoid lengthy gaps in payments that could trigger more strenuous enforcement actions – including criminal referrals for failure to pay child support (Wis. Stat. s. 948.22).
While you are unemployed or underemployed, the Child Support Agency may monitor your efforts to find work, if you are able to work. We will likely bring your case in for hearing on an order to show cause for contempt, with the goal of having the court order a documented job search. We may hold off on that step for a short time if you provide job search logs to our office voluntarily.
Once you do find work again, it is very important that you contact the Child Support Agency so that we can help keep you from missing payments that may get you further behind.
The Child Support Agency, while sympathetic to the non-financial disputes of parents, is in no position to enforce those orders of the court. We do not represent either parent, and have no authority to get involved in custody or placement disputes, disputes over conditions placed on one or both parents, or disputes over debts and obligations due from one parent to the other that are not tied in to child support.
We encourage parties to seek legal counsel or representation to discuss these disputes, if the parties are not able to resolve them on their own. Again, we are unable to provide legal advice because we do not represent either parent.
Except in limited circumstances that are tied to specific aid benefits, all current support, arrears, and interest goes to the custodial parent (your ex or another court ordered individual who has your child). If your ex has the child and receives certain specific benefits, some or all of the current support, arrears, and interest may repay the State of Wisconsin for its support of your child.
You may have been ordered to repay costs and fees, including birth expenses, process service, genetic testing costs, etc. These are debts to repay the State or the County for expenses incurred, and generally will be paid after paying the custodial parent.
The State of Wisconsin charges a $65.00 fee for receipt and disbursement (R&D) every year that you have an order to pay. It does not go to the custodial parent. The custodial parent will also pay a statutory service fee of $25 per year, but only after he/she receives $500 in payments for that year.
Unfortunately, there is no way to make a payment that immediately shows up on the statement or in the KIDS system. Where an immediate payment is important, your best option is to bring a cashier’s check or money order in to your local agency. That agency will immediately send the payment in to the trust fund, and will provide you with a receipt or other proof of payment that you may be able to use in Court. Typically, payments mailed in from the agency will not show up on statements or balances for at least 3 business days, and sometimes a little longer than that, depending on the type of payment submitted. Once the payments are recorded in the statements and on KIDS, they are typically released to the other parent within one business day.
In Ozaukee County, the sheriff’s department has agreed to process other types of payments on our behalf. Again, if you are in person, you will be able to obtain an immediate receipt for proof of payment, but there may be an even longer delay in processing before the payment shows up on statements or balances if the method of payment requires time to ensure that funds have cleared. Please contact our agency prior to making any payment through the sheriff’s department as all payments require a payment coupon for the trust fund to apply them appropriately.