Ensuring child support
Agency focuses on children’s needs
By Robert Cloud
More than 3,100 families receive more than $655,000 in monthly child support thanks to the efforts of half a dozen county employees.
Waupaca County’s Child Support Agency helps ensure that payments are made, arrears collected, paternity established and court orders followed.
The agency employs four child support specialists, each of whom handle more than 500 cases per month.
Among their responsibilities is to meet face-to-face with both parents.
“The person who pays child support believes they pay too much, and the person who receives child support believes they don’t receive enough,” according to Diane Meulemans, the county’s corporation counsel and agency administrator. “We focus on what benefits the children.”
Meulemans said the case workers now have formulas for calculating child support payments.
Payments are usually based on the noncustodial parent paying 17 percent of his or her gross income toward the support of one child and up to 31 percent for four children.
However, there are other circumstances case workers consider.
For example, if the parents are minors, a paternity action is mandatory and support will be set based on minimum wage, effective the first month following graduation from high school or completion of a high school equivalency diploma.
If a parent is self-employed, case workers must gather two years of tax returns and compare it with the Wisconsin Labor Market Index.
There are formulas for disabled parents, unemployed parents and incarcerated parents.
“We have different formulas based on where a child is staying,” Meulemans said, noting parents sometimes share custody, so that the child spends several months with each parent.
The Child Support Agency also has software that allows it to track parents’ incomes.
The system, which is DOS-based, interfaces with the state and federal new hire lists, the Department of Labor, unemployment compensation payments, probation and parole.
The software also tracks the income and payments of all parents who are required to pay child support.
“We can also enforce child support orders,” Meulemans said.
She said the agency can suspend driver’s licenses, as well as hunting and fishing permits.
“We get a lot of lump sum back support payments in November,” Meulemans said. “People will drive without a license, but they will not hunt without a permit.”
The agency can also place liens on real and person property, on a deed or a car. They can intercept tax refunds and seize bank accounts.
There are also judicial remedies if parents refuse to make payments.
“We can use civil contempt if we can prove someone is intentionally and willfully not complying with a court order,” Meulemans said.
If found in contempt, they can serve up to six months in jail.
“Jail is not the norm,” noted David Been, an attorney who works for the county’s corporation counsel and the Child Support Agency. “The court gives them several chances to right the ship before it locks them up.”
Meulemans said the statute of limitations for child support enforcement is 20 years. It can continue until the youngest child is 39 years old.
Meulemans and Been usually spend about one full day in court each month, handling new orders, modifications to existing, paternity cases and noncompliance issues.
The agency is also responsible for collecting foster care reimbursements to the Department of Social Services and reimbursement of Medical Assistance for birth expenses.
“Both parents pay for a child in foster care,” Meulemans said.
Waupaca County is also evaluated in four categories according to federal performance measures.
Waupaca County’s paternity establishment rate for July 2017 was 103.9 percent, due to carryover. That compares to the statewide average of 98.6 percent.
The county’s court order rate is 93.3 percent (state 86.6), its current support collection rate is 80 percent (state 74.6) and its arrears collection rate is 75.8 percent (state 67).
According to the Wisconsin Child Support Enforcement Association, Wisconsin ranks No. 2 in the nation for collecting current child support.