Families may split for various reasons, as the parents may get a divorce or be separated. However, irrespective of the current status of a family, or whether the parents of a child were ever married, both parents have a responsibility to care for their child. This involves supporting the child in various forms, especially financially. Financial support is particularly important as it can enhance the standard of living of the child.
Child Support Process
The Wisconsin Child Support Program (CSP) is provided by the Department of Children and Families. A custodial parent can apply for services by filling out an application form which can be gotten from https://dcf.wisconsin.gov/files/forms/doc/11053.docx. While filling out the application, some information about the parent applying will be requested. The application also has fields for the details of the noncustodial parent, as well as for the child. The parent’s details requested include full name, telephone number, date of birth, Social Security Number, email address, residential address, employer information, etc. If the parent has never received public financial assistance, an annual fee of $35 will be charged once the support collected for that year exceeds $550.
The CSP helps locate the other parent, as well as the financial assets of the parent. Several locator services are available to assist in the search for the noncustodial parent. CSP can check and compare the details of the noncustodial parent with information in the Department of Transportation database or with a list of recently hired employees across the state. Help can also be sought from other states if the parent does not reside in Wisconsin. When the parent has been located, a notice of the child support case is served.
After serving the notice of child support, there may be a need to establish the paternity of the child. However, paternity may only be legally established before the child’s 19th birthday. There are four ways to establish paternity in Wisconsin. The first is by voluntary acknowledgment. If both parents are not minors (that is, they are more than 18 years old), the man believes he is the father and the mother agrees, they can both fill a Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgement form. This can be done right after the child is born, or sometime later. Parents who wish to fill the form right after their child is born can obtain a copy from the hospital, while parents who wish to fill later can visit the state Vital Records Office for a copy. A directory of various addresses for the state Vital Records Office can be found at https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/vitalrecords/index.htm.
A court hearing can also be used to establish the paternity of a child. If the man disputes fathering the child, he can request genetic testing. However, it is important that both parents attend the court hearing; the man can be named as the child’s father even if he is absent.
The parents may sign an Acknowledgment of Marital Child form if they get married after the child is born. The form can be gotten from the Vital Records Office and must be signed in front of a notary.
Other details regarding establishing the paternity of the child can be found at https://dcf.wisconsin.gov/cs/paternity/home.
Once paternity has been established, CSP can proceed with establishing the child support order.
How Do You Receive Child Support?
Parents who have a child support order can receive their child support payments in either of two ways.
Direct Deposit: This option requires the parent to already have an existing savings or checking account in a bank. Parents who enroll for Direct Deposit will have their child support funds electronically transferred to an authorized bank account that they own once the funds become available. To sign up for Direct Deposit, the parent must fill a Direct Deposit Authorization Form, which can be gotten from https://dcf.wisconsin.gov/files/cs/pay/cp/dd.pdf. For more details on Direct Deposit, visit https://dcf.wisconsin.gov/cs/cp/pay/dd.
Debit Card: Parents who do not have a bank account, or who do not wish to link their bank account to the child support case can opt to receive their payments on the Wisconsin EPPIC Debit MasterCard. This is a debit card issued by Comerica Bank which has the funds applied to it automatically once they are available. Enrollment for the card is automatic and done once the Trust Fund processes the first support payment on the case. The card has flexible usage and can be used at any location that accepts MasterCard. For further details on the EPPIC debit card, visit https://dcf.wisconsin.gov/cs/cp/pay/debit-card.
Amount Receivable as Child Support
Wisconsin uses the Percentage of Income Standard to determine how much will be paid as child support. The standard provides guidelines, considering that both parents should share the childcare responsibilities whether they are together or not. Special considerations are also taken into account when using the child support guidelines. These include the obligation of the parent to other children (from other relationships), the time the child spends with each parent, the number of children, the income of the parents, etc. The income of the parents includes life insurance, business interests, stocks, wages, worker’s compensation, etc. Income may also be imputed based on the parent’s ability to earn. This is necessary in cases where a parent is willingly unemployed or underemployed when they could be earning more. For more information on the determination of how much should be paid as child support, visit https://dcf.wisconsin.gov/cs/order/guidelines.
Enforcement of Child Support
It is sometimes the case that noncustodial parents default on their child support payments. In such situations, there are enforcement tools that can be used to ensure compliance with the child support order. Some examples of these are:
- Income Withholding: This is the most common way that child support is collected. It involves deducting a specified sum from the wages of the noncustodial parent before they are paid to the parent. Income withholding is usually ordered as soon as the child support case is established but is ineffective if the parent is self-employed or generates income from assets.
- Intercepting Tax Refunds: The parent’s tax refunds are sent to the Child Support Trust Fund and then applied to the child support case instead of being paid to the parent.
- Denying Passport Application or Renewal: Once a parent owes $2500 in child support (including interest), the U.S. State Department will not issue or renew the parent’s passport.
- Denying Loans and Grants: Parents who have exceeded certain child support debt thresholds will not be able to apply for some small business loans or college grants.
- Suspending licenses: The recreational, professional, driver’s, or occupational license of a parent can be suspended if the parent owes an amount equivalent to 3 months or child support payments.
For more details on child support enforcement actions, visit https://dcf.wisconsin.gov/cs/enforce/home.