Articles Posted in Child Support

Venue and motions to change venue in Wisconsin courts are governed by the statutes found at Wis. Stats. § 801.50 through § 801.64. Those statutes apply to family law cases through §767.201 and the related residency requirements of § 767.301.

Family law cases, however, are unique in their continuing nature. While most types of cases are finalized after entry of judgment (except, of course, for appeal remands and sometimes enforcement issues), family law cases frequently require the court’s continuing action after entry of judgment for modification of placement or custody, modification or termination of child support, maintenance issues, placement enforcement, etc. As families move around the state in our mobile society, venue issues often arise: which county is most convenient for the parties, where is most of the relevant information located, etc.

The family code, § 767.281, provides a simple way to change venue for post-judgment modification and enforcement motions, petitions, and orders to show cause. With the title, “Filing procedures and orders for enforcement or modification of judgments or orders,” one might not expect this statute to provide a useful mechanism for transferring a post-judgment family case to a more convenient or appropriate county, which perhaps explains why the statute and procedure are little used or understood. But in an appropriate case, this statute can simplify and streamline procedures as families move around the state.

In Wisconsin, parents have an obligation to support their child financially until the child is 18 years old. This support obligation can extend to age 19 if the child is in high school (“pursuing an accredited course of instruction leading to the acquisition of a high school diploma or its equivalent”). Wis Stats. § 767.511(4). Termination of child support when the child “ages out,” however, does not happen automatically. Sometimes the county Child Support Agency contacts the parents and then moves to terminate child support. But ultimately, the burden is on the parents to make sure child support terminates at the appropriate time. If the Child Support Agency does not act on your behalf, you may need to file a motion and obtain a court order terminating child support.

If you pay child support and your child is nearing the age when your obligation to pay child support ends, pay attention to your case. Contact your attorney or your county Child Support Agency to ensure that your child support does not continue to accrue after your obligation to pay support has ended. If you miss the termination date and over-pay child support, you may be able to recoup the overpayment by filing a motion and asking the circuit court to order repayment. But this is a time-consuming and potentially expensive remedy that is best avoided by ensuring that your child support terminates when it should.

If you have more than one child, it may be in your interest to seek modification of child support as each child approaches age 18/high school graduation. Before you do so, though, calculate your prospective child support obligation based upon the parties’ current financial circumstances to be sure the amount of child support you pay will decrease. For example, if your income has increased significantly since entry of the previous child support order, a recalculation of child support may actually increase your support obligation, even though you will be paying support for fewer children.

About once a year here at Wessel, Lehker & Fumelle we encounter an opposing party who is intent on hiding income. A party’s income, of course, is highly relevant information for purposes of setting maintenance (alimony), establishing child support, or changing the amount of maintenance or child support. Some support payers are working on perfecting the art of hiding or disguising income or assets, treating the support recipient much like they probably treat the IRS.

The signs are often fairly obvious. A party may report an income that barely covers expenses, yet take lavish vacations or acquire expensive toys. Or a party, often self-employed, may report an income that is substantially lower than it was before the parties split. Sometimes a party reports the former partner’s penchant for half-truths and misrepresentation. A party’s exhaustive or creative opposition to reasonable financial disclosure may signal interesting records.

Fortunately, the statutes authorizing access to information are broad in Wisconsin. Wisconsin Statutes Chapter 804 authorizes discovery of all “relevant” information, whether or not it is actually admissible at trial. And courts have little tolerance for parties who play loose with the facts. Once we can show some manipulation or lack of candor, courts are often willing to authorize a deeper investigation or impute income. We have also found that when the opposing party realizes that we are not simply going to accept the represented income as the whole truth, a reasonable settlement suddenly becomes more attractive.

On April 3, 2012, the Wisconsin Supreme Court issued its decision in May v. May. The attorneys at Wessel, Lehker & Fumelle represented Michael May in this post-judgment child support dispute, and have blogged about the case previously. The issue presented in May was whether agreements between parents to set a floor on child support are unenforceable because they are against public policy, just has agreements to set a ceiling on child support have been held unenforceable because they are against public policy. See previous posts in this blog for further explanation of the issue.

In an opinion that has further muddied these already murky waters, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s decision to enforce the child support agreement. The Court held that the Mays’ agreement did not violate public policy because “the circuit court retains its equitable power to consider circumstances in existence when the stipulation was challenged that were unforeseen by the parties when they entered into the agreement if those circumstances adversely affect the best interests of the children.” The Court flatly ignored a central issue: That in a shared-placement case, the financial resources in both homes affects the children’s best interests.

As Justice Bradley noted in her concurrence, the majority opinion “creates confusion rather than clarity.” It is small consolation that Justice Abrahamson’s dissent shows a clear understanding of the issues. Abrahamson states that the parties should not have “the ability to stipulate to a truly unmodifiable child support floor. This result is necessary because freedom of contract cannot take precedence over the best interests of the child.[fn2] While it is more frequently the case that raising the amount of child support would be in the child’s best interests, situations could arise in which lowering the amount would be in the child’s best interests because of fluctuations in the parents’ income levels.”

If you’re looking for a Wisconsin court’s assistance with enforcing an order from another state, one trap to be wary of is the differing registration provisions for enforcement of support orders vs. enforcement of custody and placement orders.

The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) sets forth at Wis. Stat. § 822.35 the procedure for registering an order for placement and custody. The Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA) sets forth at Wis. Stat. § 769.601 – 608 the procedure for registering an order for support. Both statutes specify the registration procedures, the steps that the registering court must take to provide notice, and the procedures and standards for contesting registration. While the basic procedures are similar, there are differences, and registering an order for purposes of one of the statutes will not suffice for registering an order for purposes of the other.

Contact the attorneys at Wessel, Lehker & Fumelle for assistance with these complex statutes.

In January we blogged about a child support issue that’s headed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. That case has now been scheduled for oral argument. Attorney Keith Wessel of Wessel, Lehker & Fumelle will argue the case before the full Wisconsin Supreme Court on Thursday, October 6, at 1:30 pm.

Under current Wisconsin child support law, parents may not agree to a maximum amount of child support. Such agreements are held to violate public policy because children should share in their parents’ increased earnings. Yet the courts have imposed few restrictions on parents’ agreements on a minimum amount of child support. In the case before the court, the child support payer’s income decreased – a common scenario in today’s economy – yet the payer was precluded from seeking a reduction in his child support payments. We argue that child support should be modifiable as the parents’ financial circumstances change, whether the modification is an increase in child support or a decrease in child support.

With the current composition of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, the October 6 argument should be lively and interesting. Oral arguments in the Wisconsin Supreme Court are open to the public. Come hear a thought-provoking argument and, whatever your opinion, demonstrate by your presence that the public cares about this issue.

The Wisconsin Court of Appeals recently certified a child support issue to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in an appeal pursued by Wessel, Lehker & Fumelle.

One glaring disparity in Wisconsin law is its treatment of child support agreements. Parents are free to agree to a minimum amount of child support, but agreements to a maximum amount of child support are unenforceable because they violate public policy. The reasoning goes something like this: It’s good for children to share in their parents’ increased earnings, and good for children to have a minimum amount of child support despite a parent’s decreased earnings.

This analysis may have been defensible back in the days when kids spent most of their time in one home – usually mom’s – and had brief visits in the other home. Now that physical placement (sometimes called custody) is usually shared, it makes no sense to allow child support to increase as the payer’s income increases, but not allow child support to decrease as the payer’s income decreases.

A Michigan child support case has made headlines across the nation recently. Just last month the Michigan Supreme Court ruled in Department of Human Services v. Lawrence Michael Beck that even though the father’s parental rights had been terminated, his obligation to pay child support could continue. The court based its decision largely on the Michigan legislature’s “clear distinction between parental rights and the parental obligation to support a minor child.”

In Wisconsin, the legislature has done just the opposite. The Wisconsin Children’s Code provides, “An order terminating parental rights permanently severs all legal rights and duties between the parent whose parental rights are terminated and the child. . . .” Wisconsin Statutes Section 48.43(2). Thus in Wisconsin, termination of parental rights ends all legal rights, including the parent’s right to spend time with the child, and all legal obligations, including the parent’s obligation to provide financial support.