When Does Child Support End in Wisconsin?

Typically, child support ends when the child turns 18 (or 19 if the child is still in high school or taking an accredited GED course). However, there are several circumstances in the state where child support might be extended or end early.

Support Timeline Under Normal Circumstances

Child support is money paid by the non-custodial parent to the parent with custody to ensure your children have the same standard of living as before the divorce. In Wisconsin, this is calculated by a percentage-standard method. So basically, as the non-custodial parent, you pay a percentage of your income based on the number of minor children in the marriage.

Support payments continue until the child is 18 or graduates from high school. Although rare, there are cases where support could continue after the child turns 18 or end early (detailed below).

When Does Child Support Continue Through College?

In Wisconsin, unless your children's college education is specifically included in the divorce settlement, there is not an obligation to include it in child support. Make sure if any promises or agreements were made before the divorce to get them included in the settlement. An oral agreement or written handshake isn't enough!

If it is not stated in your divorce judgment that the non-custodial parent has to help with college expenses, then child support will automatically stop when the child turns 18 or graduates high school. Generally, this isn't something that can change after the divorce settlement. If this is something you feel should be included in your divorce settlement, make sure to consult your attorney.

In What Other Cases Might Child Support End Early?

In the vast majority of cases, child support continues until age 18 or graduation from high school. However, there are a few instances where child support will end early, such as:

  • If a child joins the military
  • If a child gets married
  • If a child gets emancipated

In these cases, child support payments would end immediately. If you can prove that one of these has taken place, child support would not only end but be affected retroactively as well.

My Child Support Payment Is Too High – What Do I Do?

Though you can't end a child support payment early, there are ways to reduce it. If you can prove a significant change[1] in circumstance (losing a job, for instance), you can request a hearing to have the support payments recalculated.

If you feel that this is something you need, contact a family lawyer and collect as much documentation as you can.

If My Child Is Over 18, Do I Still Owe Arrearages?

Absolutely. That is the short answer.

The reasoning of the state is that just because your child is 18 doesn't mean the years of non-payment are “forgiven.” Your son/daughter's age does not exempt you from the support that you owe. This is seen in the case of Howard v. Howard 130 Wis. 2d 206, 387 N.W.2d 96 (Ct. App. 1986).[2] In this instance, the court found that a tax refund check was not subject to certification by the clerk. However, upon appeal the decision was reversed based on the facts stated.

Can the Court Retroactively Reduce My Support to Nullify Arrearages?

Anything is possible, however, you would need to prove your reasoning.

This is seen in the case of O'Brien v. Freiley 130 Wis. 2d 174, 387 N.W.2d 85 (Ct. App. 1986).[3] In this situation, among other details, the court decided to adjust support, effectively reducing arrearages for the years of hardship. Upon appeal, the court reversed the decision to retroactively adjust the support based on the method that was used to adjust the support. The court of appeals stated that the trial court should have taken a broader view, instead of only looking at individual years. Overall, it was found that his income actually increased.

 Is It Possible to Have Arrearages Removed?

Unfortunately, the courts are strict when it comes to child support and having payments removed from a person.

In the case Hirschfield v. Hirschfield, 118 Wis.2d 468, 347 N.W.2d 627 (Ct. App. 1984),[4] it was decided that when a parent is ordered to pay child support, he cannot receive credits which allow him to avoid payments. There are few occurrences where child support can be expunged, mostly when there are accidental duplicate payments or if a child receives payment after the age of 18.

Is It Possible to Motion for a Reduction of Arrearages and Current Support?

It is, however, if certain criteria cannot be met or if certain evidence requirements are not met, you may be denied. This is best supported in the case of Woodmansee v. Woodmansee, 151 Wis. 2d 242, 444 N.W.2d 393 (Ct. App. 1989). The father was ordered to show cause why he should not be held in contempt for his failure to pay during this case. Instead, he motioned the court to reduce his arrearages and reduce current support. The circuit court approved. The mother appealed, and the court of appeals reversed. My advice is to contact an attorney before proceeding in order to discuss the details of your case.

What Happens if I Fail to Pay All of My Support Payments by the Time My Child Reaches 18?

This query was discussed in Griffin v. Reeve, 141 Wis.2d 669, 416 N.W.2d 612 (1987).[5] In Griffin, the father did not want to pay any more support because his child surpassed 18. However, the court did not allow this. While the court may not modify or terminate the support order after the child reaches majority, the force of the order does not expire until the parent complies. A parent's failure to pay child support after the child reaches majority is a continuing disobedience of a court order.

My Child Is Turning 18, Do I Have to Pay My Last Support Payments?

It was discussed in Howard v. Howard, 130 Wis.2d 206, 387 N.W.2d 96 (Ct. App. 1986), that a person is obligated to make child support payments whether those payments are currently accruing, past due, or both. If there is a failure to pay, the court can intercept checks; this also does not stop once a child reaches majority age, but rather when all payments are made.


References: [1]Modifying a Child Support Order, [2]Howard v. Howard (1986),[3]O'Brien v. Freiley (1986), [4]Hirschfield v. Hirschfield (1984), [5]Griffin v. Reeve (1987)


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