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  • InsideTrack
  • August 04, 2021

    Legal Research: Uncovering Liens in Wisconsin

    Searching for liens is a necessary and important step in financial legal research. Learn more about the best ways to seek out information on these types of claims.

    Carol Hassler

    house on top of coins

    Aug. 4, 2021 – Liens are claims against property or funds to fulfill a debt or for services rendered. Research liens before making financial or property transactions, or when investigating individuals or businesses.

    Searching for liens is an important step in many personal or business transactions. Publicly recorded liens are a rich source of information.

    Liens are also helpful for uncovering more information about the property upon which a lien has been placed. Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) filings, for example, can list specific assets held by a business, providing information about difficult-to-research private companies.

    Types of Liens

    There are two types of liens.

    Carol Hassler Carol Hassler is a law librarian at the Wisconsin State Law Library. She is a member of the Law Librarians Association of Wisconsin (LLAW). LLAW's Public Relations Committee coordinates regular contributions by its members to InsideTrack.

    Voluntary liens are created with the consent of the party. These are liens like mortgages, vehicle and boat loans, and UCC filings connected to loans.

    Involuntary liens are formed without the consent of the party. These may include state or federal tax liens, construction or mechanics liens, child support, and liens formed from docketed judgments.

    While not all liens have statutory origins, a browse through the Wisconsin statutes index listing for liens on Wisconsin.gov ​shows the wide variety of codified liens in Wisconsin.

    Some statutory liens are required to be recorded with a particular office. Other records – like mechanics liens – may be kept between the parties.

    Liens are filed in the county where the property is located, the work was done, or the services were performed.

    For those liens that require or provide the option of recording, there are statewide databases or local offices to turn to for research.

    Public Records Sources

    Searching public record websites or offices charged with maintaining a record can be an important resource for lien research. Some liens are searchable in statewide databases, while others can be located in local county offices.

    Wisconsin Circuit Court Access Database

    Many liens are filed in local courthouses and searchable in the Wisconsin Circuit Court Access (WCCA or CCAP) database. In addition to docketed judgment liens, users can find construction and condominium liens, plus hospital, log and mining liens, and more.

    Search liens by going to the search menu in WCCA, and choosing the judgment search. Tailor your search by selecting a judgment/lien type, case type, or case classification code. Be sure to check the WCCA's Site help page for ways to run either broader or more specific searches.

    WCCA Judgment search

    The WCCA Judgment search lets you search by debtor name as well as type of lien.

    Child Support Lien Docket

    The Child Support Lien Docket by the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families is a searchable database containing the names of people who owe past due child support. Past due support constitutes a lien against real or titled property. Records will show the individual’s name, amount of the lien, filing information, and county.

    UCC Filings

    The Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions maintains a website for searching UCC filings throughout the state. While the documents are viewable for a fee, you can create a free account to use the UCC and Trademark System to investigate whether a filing exists for a particular party.

    There are a few types of searches to try on this site. If you’re unfamiliar searching for UCC filings, try running quick searches first. These are free, more forgiving searches, allowing you to find names quickly and test alternative spellings. A UCC-11 search (fee applies) uses specific search logic, and will return a certified search certificate along with the results.

    Delinquent Taxpayers Search​​

    The Wisconsin Department of Revenue (DOR) provides an online database of delinquent taxpayers, searchable by name or location. DOR also keeps a list of “Top 100 Delinquent Taxpayers” on their website. Tax warrants for delinquent state tax are filed with the clerk of court, and are searchable through the WCCA website. Search by lien type, or look for the “TW” in the case number.

    Federal tax liens are recorded in the county Register of Deeds office, and questions about liens recorded there should be directed to the Internal Revenue Service.

    Register of Deeds Offices

    Local Register of Deeds offices keep records on transactions that transfer or encumber real property titles. These offices are sources for a variety of liens, including DNR liens for environmental cleanup, real estate liens, and federal tax liens or other federal liens. Researching liens that appear during a search may also require contacting the originating agency for more information.

    Further Research

    Find tips for locating and resolving liens in books or articles on broader topics like real property, tax collection, long-term care planning, and the UCC.

    Some specific books exist for specialized, yet common lien types. The Construction Lien Law Handbook from State Bar of Wisconsin PINNACLE®, for example, addresses the specific procedures and timelines of this particular type of lien. Other PINNACLE resources include:

    You can learn more about the UCC with PINNACLE’s OnDemand seminar, Secured Transactions: An Introduction to Article 9 of the Uniform Commercial Code 2017, which also includes a section on understanding the priority of liens.

    A law librarian can help you identify sources and strategies to make the most of your research time. If you still have questions or need additional research assistance, don’t hesitate to contact your local law librarian or the State Law Library Reference desk at (608) 267-9696 or wsll.ref@wicourts.gov.




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