Paternity Lawyers in Wisconsin
An experienced family law attorney can help you establish legal fatherhood in Wisconsin. Establishing paternity will help ensure you are legally recognized as your child's father in the case of a divorce or separation from your partner. Paternity is important because it helps build protection for your child and your rights as a father.
What Does Paternity Mean?
Paternity is the establishment of legal fatherhood and will cause Wisconsin to officially recognize a man as the legal father. Wisconsin statutes give fathers specific rights and duties, so it is important that fatherhood is legally established. A father has a right to fight for child custody, child placement, and child support. Paternity actions in Wisconsin must be heard in the proper jurisdiction (county) and venue, though there are no residency requirements.
Why is it Important to Establish Paternity?
Paternity is arguably one of the most important areas of family law, as it assists in establishing the rights of a father, as well as protections for the child.
Legal fatherhood establishes rights such as:
- The father's name on the child’s birth certificate
- Securing parental rights to be considered before the child can be placed for adoption
- Formally requesting the court for legal custody, placement, and child support
Having a legal father established will also give the child protection such as:
- Financial support from both birth parents until the child reaches the age of majority
- Legal right to the father’s social security, veteran’s benefits, pension, and inheritance
- Enrollment in the father’s employer-provided or private health insurance plan
- If the father is Native American, the child will have rights to tribal enrollment
Besides the legal protections, establishing a biological father can provide access to information in regards to family history; giving the child a better understanding of what’s to come in terms of growth and development, and hereditary diseases.
How a Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgement Can Impact Your Rights
Voluntary Paternal Establishment
When a child is born to unmarried parents, State and Federal law requires hospitals to explain the Voluntary Paternal Establishment (VPA). Hospitals should go through the rights, responsibilities, and alternatives of VPA immediately following the child’s birth.
If the unmarried parents send the signed VPA form to the state to be recorded, the mother and father will both be recognized as having parental rights. It is important to note, however, that the fine print on the form establishes the mother as having primary placement and sole custody of the child until the court makes orders otherwise. This is why, as an unmarried father, you must file a petition with the court.
If you are unsure if you should sign the VPA or have questions about how to proceed with establishing your parental rights after you’ve signed the VPA, it is best to consult with one of our attorneys at Divergent Family Law.
What To Do When You’ve Signed the VPA:
After you sign the VPA, file a case with the court and file a petition to establish terms of paternity. Once this petition is filed and served, the initial hearing set by the court will be your first opportunity for you to establish legal custody, physical placement of your child and child support, and to determine whether there should be a change to your child’s last name. You’ve already acknowledged you are the father by signing the VPA, so the court should not need to order a DNA test or formal court procedure to determine that you are your child’s father.
What To Do if You Haven’t Signed the VPA
If the VPA has not been signed by both parties and submitted to the state, you will need to file a petition for paternity. This is different from the petition for a father who signed the VPA. When you appear at the initial hearing, the first thing the court must do is address who the father is. If a VPA has not been signed and submitted to the state by the parties but both parties agree at the initial hearing that you are the father (as noted by your petition), the court may proceed with establishing the terms of paternity at the first hearing. If either party questions who the father is, the court will order a DNA test to be completed before any other orders can be entered.
After the results of the DNA test are provided (weeks to months in some counties), a second hearing will take place. If the DNA test shows a 99.99% probability that you are the father, the court will establish orders on legal custody, physical placement of your child and child support, and determine whether there should be a change to your child’s last name.
How Do You Establish
Paternity in Wisconsin?
The child, the child’s mother, and a man presumed to be the child’s father, a guardian ad litem, or a grandparent may petition to establish or challenge paternity (See 767.80(1)). There are strict time limits and deadlines to keep in mind when filing for paternity; such as the statute of limitations (time limit) which is before the child’s 19th birthday.
Paternity can be established three different ways in Wisconsin:
- The Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment (VPA) is a legal document that is provided to the parents in the hospital immediately after the birth of the child. The form is also available after the family leaves the hospital in vital records. This form can be used by parents who are 18 years or older.
- By signing this form, the parents acknowledge that they are the legal mother and father of the child. If you are unsure if you are the father of the child, do not sign this form until you have spoken with an attorney. By voluntarily acknowledging paternity, a court may be able to order child support against the named father in the document if it becomes necessary, despite being married or not.
- Please note that there are certain circumstances where the Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment form is not applicable. A few examples where the VPA is not applicable are if the child is the result of rape or incest, if either parent is under the age of 18, or if it is not in the best interest of the child. This form cannot be used if the mother conceived or birthed the child while married to another man.
- A court hearing will be held in one or both of the parties do not agree who the father is. Both parties will appear in court and present evidence in front of a judge. A genetic test will likely be ordered by the court to determine paternity.
- The court uses the results of the DNA test to determine if the alleged father is the legal father. Wisconsin has set a precedent that if the DNA has a 99% or higher statistical probability of being the child in question's father, it is presumed to be correct.
- If the alleged father refuses to submit to a court-ordered DNA test, a court may hold the individual in contempt.
of a Marital Child
- An Acknowledgment of Marital Child form can be signed if the child’s birth comes before the parents get married.
- This form can be obtained from the local child support agency or from a state vital records office. This document will need to be notarized and mailed back to the state office of Vital Records.