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General Information

Why is Paternity Establishment Important? 

When a legal father is established for your child it ensures your child’s rights as well as your rights as parents. It will allow the child to receive financial support from both parents until he/she becomes an adult as well as having access to the father’s health insurance plan. Should something happen to the father, your child will have rights to his/her father’s social security, veteran’s benefits, pension and inheritance. If the father is Native American, the child may have the right to tribal enrollment. Your child will also have access to the father’s family health history which is very important as some medical conditions run in families.

Legal Fatherhood also gives rights to the father by having his name on the child’s birth certificate and allowing him to ask the court for legal custody and placement of his child. The father will also have the right to have his parental rights considered before his child can be placed for adoption.

Paternity can be determine either by the court adjudicating paternity or if both parents sign and file the Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment (VPA) form. If you have any questions or doubts about who the father of your child is, genetic testing should be done prior to signing the VPA or it can be requested at the court hearing. If the test results show a 99.99% or greater probability of father, the man will be the legal father under Wisconsin law. For more information on genetic testing please click here.

Legal Custody and Physical Placement – Knowing the Difference

The Vernon County Department of Human Services Child Support Unit does not make recommendations or participate in the decisions concerning the legal custody or physical placement of a child. Only the Courts have authority to rule and enforce placement issues. Please note that all matters relating to legal custody and physical placement are separate from the child support order. 

  • Legal Custody is the legal right to take care of and make major decisions concerning a child. The Family Court will determine which parent(s) should have custody of the child(ren) either by agreement of the parties or by the courts determination through a legal hearing.
    • Sole Custody - one parent has legal custody.
    • Joint Custody - both parents have legal custody.
  • Physical Placement is the period of time a child spends in the care of a parent.
    • Primary Placement - where the child lives most of the time.
    • Shared-Placement – the child lives with each parent at least 25% of the time.
    • Split-Placement – a family with two or more children, one parent has primary placement of one or more children and the other parent has primary placement of the other child(ren).


Emancipation, Graduation, Child Support Order Termination
Each year during graduation time, the following situation may occur:

  1. The child is 18 years old and a senior in high school;
  2. The last day of school attendance for seniors is in the Month of May;
  3. Graduation Day falls in the Month of June; and
  4. The child support order is based on a monthly obligation.

A child support order is a legal document issued by a judge and the Vernon County Department of Human Services, Child Support Unit has an obligation to comply with the court’s order according to Wisconsin State Statutes. When a child support order is payable on a monthly basis, the child support agency adheres to the judge’s order and continues that order through the end of the month of the child’s graduation date. If the date of graduation is June 4th, the child support order would end on June 30th. In most cases, the agency considers the day of graduation as the official end of high school education, as this is the day the diploma is obtained that officially confirms high school competition.

Verification of School Enrollment
If a parent fails to verify that the child is still enrolled in high school and pursuing a high school diploma after they reach 18 years of age the child support order will end the last day of the month after the child turns 18 years of age. (If the order ends and a parent later verifies the child is enrolled, attending and pursuing a high school diploma, GED or HSED the order will recommence the first of the following month after the verification is received.)

Prorating Orders
The Vernon County Department of Human Services, Child Support Unit does not “prorate” orders in regards to emancipation.  What this means is that the order will not stop on the last day the child actually is required to attend school as a senior (usually the end of May or beginning of June). The child support order will continue until the end of the week, for weekly orders, or the end of the month, for monthly orders, depending on the date the graduation day occurs.

Mutually Agreeing Parents
If the parents can work out an agreement whereby the child support payment would cease at a specific time, or any other type of arrangement mutually decided upon, the custodial parent/payee needs to inform the child support case worker of this in order to quickly effectuate the cessation of the order. If this does not occur promptly, the income withholding will remain in effect and arrears could accumulate. The ideal time to consider mutual agreements is when the payee or payer receives a request for graduation date or emancipation notice from the Child Support Agency.

Completing High School Education Early
On some occasions, children finish high school early due to obtaining the required number of credits prior to the end of the school year. An example would be, the child finishes school after the second quarter and is able to stop attending school in January. If the child is 18 years old at that time, the agency will stop the child support order at the end of the month. If the child is still 17 years old and has completed high school, the child support order will continue to run until the child reaches age 18.

Home School and GED Completion
If a determination is necessary as to whether or not a GED or home school or other nontraditional education experience meets the definition of an “accredited course of instruction leading to a high school equivalency”, documentation might be requested by the case worker as confirmation that the student pursuing the equivalency diploma or certificate and/or has completed the program.

If You Disagree
Parents who disagree with the Vernon County DHS, Child Support Unit’s policy, may take the matter to the courts themselves for the judge to consider other arguments and/or unique circumstances that they believe might apply to their case.


What if payments are not made?
There are several reasons payments may not have been made. The Child Support Agency cannot guarantee that the child support payments will be made on an exact day and should never be relied upon. If your order is new or has recently changed, it can take 3-4 weeks for the Income Withholding to take effect and the payment to be received. Self-employed Payers or those that are making payments on their own have the entire month to pay their support due in that month. Another cause of delay with the child support payments could be unpaid days off, the individual was laid off, a change in jobs, holidays, mail time, or various other reasons. Our agency will wait 30 days from the last payment received before we follow up with an employer. Any unpaid child support will automatically be recorded by our system as arrears and the Child Support Agency can take the necessary steps to obtain an additional order to withhold payments for any arrears balances.

Enforcing a Child Support Order
The Child Support Agency will monitor the cases to make sure the court orders are being followed. The case worker will take enforcement action on a case when a payer is more than one month behind as required by Federal guidelines. The case worker may send enforcement warning letters, start license suspension, or schedule an appointment. If a payer fails to pay as ordered by the court and fails to cooperate with the case worker, the agency may take the case to court for further action.

There are several enforcement tools that will automatically fall into place based upon the amount of past-due support also known as arrears. Payers who are delinquent in their child support are reported to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the State Department of Revenue (DOR) which may result in tax intercept, loan denial, and/or passport denial.

While credit is given immediately on the child support system, any collections intercepted from a federal joint tax return will be held for six months before is it released to the custodial parent. This six month hold is established to protect the parent receiving the money from having to repay an intercepted refund in the event the IRS recalls any or all of the payment. After the six months, the Wisconsin Support Collections Trust Fund will release the money to the parent receiving support. Please note: the hold is not a guarantee that the IRS will not recall the intercepted funds after six months.

Any payer that has a past-due support balance of $500.00 or more will automatically be placed on Lien Docket. Liens must be paid off or released prior to selling any property, including your land or home, cars, trucks, motorcycles, etc.

Click here for more information on Enforcing Child Support Orders.