This guide provides some simple steps parents ordered to pay support can take to keep the orders fair and accurate.
1. Keep Your Orders Current with Your Income
When your child support order is entered, it is based on a percentage of your income at that time if you’re working. If your earnings decrease due to a change or loss in employment, that’s a basis to reduce the amount of your support order. This does not happen automatically , though. There’s no omniscient entity working at your local child support agency adjusting your orders as your financial circumstances change. It is your responsibility to start the paperwork and request a hearing to lower the support order. For any period of time before you do this, you can still be held accountable for payment under the previous, higher support order.
Keep Your Orders Current with the Placement Circumstances
Often a parent ordered to pay support will then care for the child(ren) more time than what was contemplated as part of the support order. The amount of time the child(ren) is with each parent can affect the amount of support ordered. If a change has occurred here, take steps to have the placement orders updated so child support can be adjusted accordingly.
Make Your Payments to the Right Source
Your court order for child support is tracked and accounted for by the State of Wisconsin through local child support agencies. These agencies have no knowledge of payments you give directly to the other parent for child support. Thus , you receive no credit and it is as though you missed the payment. The best option is always to funnel payments through the state trust fund. If you make a direct payment to the other parent, do it in a method that is traceable and have that parent confirm the payment so your records with the state can be adjusted to reflect the payment. Handing the other parent cash for child support is never advisable.
Read Your Orders
When you go to court and receive an order to pay support, you are responsible for not only what is stated orally by the court, but all the statutory requirements in the fine print at the end of your order about providing notice of change in employment and income. Saying you did not read the entire order may not save you if you have to go to court on a contempt action for failure to comply with Wisconsin laws.
Keep Your Records and Keep Them Organized
On occasion, there may be mistakes in your payment orders/records kept by child support agency and you may have to contact them about it. You need to keep in mind child support agencies across the state are heavily overburdened bureaucratic bodies. And similar to dealing with all government bodies of this nature, if you can quickly present your issue with accompanying documentation, your issue can probably be fixed. Conversely, if you come to them with just an issue but are unprepared and disorganized, don’t expect to get the issue fixed any time soon if at all.
When in Doubt, Talk to an Attorney
And that means an attorney for YOU – not a representative from a child support agency. A recurring theme I see when parents consult with me about a child support issue is that the issue has existed for some time, and they are just now contacting an attorney once its gotten to the level of contempt of court, a complete inability to make payments, or sometime criminal charges (yes, failure to pay support for a prolonged period can be charged criminally as a felony). The tragedy of this situation is the trouble they find themselves in could have been mitigated or avoided altogether had they just been proactive, discussed the issue with an attorney earlier, and then taken easy actions.