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Paternity law in Wisconsin

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 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:

 

Voluntary

Paternity Acknowledgement

  • 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. 

Court

Hearing

  • 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.

Acknowledgment

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.

 

Divorce

When a couple decides to end their marriage, the legal action can take multiple routes. If they are able to come to an agreement about all of the required details, including division of assets, child custody, placement, and alimony, then they can apply for an uncontested divorce.

In many cases, property division and child custody are emotional decisions to make. Divorce mediation or a court proceeding may be the only way to reach a mutual agreement. A collaborative divorce occurs when the two parties are able to finalize a divorce through negotiation or mediation. A contested divorce occurs when the parties cannot reach an agreement, in which case the divorce case must go to trial and a judge will rule a final, indisputable hearing.

 

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Child Custody

It is important to remember that no matter what a parent wants for the outcome of a custody case, any final decision will be made with regards to the child’s best interests before any other factors are taken into consideration.

The term “custody” is often used as a general term regarding the amount of time that a child will spend with each parent or guardian, as well as the degree of legal power each parent or guardian has over decisions relating to the child’s life, such as medical treatments, religious and educational preferences, and more. However, Wisconsin separates these decisions into two areas, “custody” and “placement.” Custody refers specifically to the legal right that a parent has in decisions regarding the care and upbringing of the child. Custody can be either shared or sole, depending on the court's decision.

 

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Placement

Placement refers to the arrangement between parents or guardians regarding how the child’s time is shared between the two parties. The child’s welfare is the primary consideration when the judge makes the final decision. Placement can be designated as primary, shared, or split. Primary placement is granted to the parent or guardian that the child spends the most time with. Shared placement refers to each parent dividing the amount of time the child spends with them. Split placement is a third option when multiple children are involved. Each child receives his or her own specific schedule.

 

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Child Support

In order to ensure that the child support payments are fair, the judge will explore all of the relevant details, such as the income and financial stability of each parent, as well as which parent will have the majority of the financial responsibility for the children.

Child support payments may be required until the child turns 18, or there may be other circumstances that extend the payments beyond their 18th birthday depending on the child's needs. Parents can also request for their child support agreement to be reevaluated in court. To see an estimate of your monthly child support payments, use our Wisconsin child support calculator.

 

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Alimony

Alimony is often confused for child support, and while each involves a payment going from one spouse to the other, the similarities end there. Alimony is a payment that is made from the most-financially stable spouse to the dependent spouse for a set period of time. These payments are intended to give the dependent spouse an opportunity to adjust to their life without the ability to rely on their spouse’s income.

Alimony payments are determined by the current financial circumstances of each spouse. The agreement can always be renegotiated if one of the parents goes through a major income change. In particular, if the recipient of the alimony remarries, they may lose the spousal support payments. The terms of the agreement are clearly outlined by the lawyers or judge.

 

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Father's Rights

In situations involving unwed parents, the father may find that they have very few legal rights over their child. In these cases, it is especially important for the unwed father to partner with a family lawyer who can help him navigate his situation.

In addition to issues strictly pertaining to legal rights over a child, father’s rights also include issues like paternity tests, contesting adoptions or custody-related decisions, visitation, or instances where the father would like to terminate their rights. No matter the problem, if you need legal help as a father, we're here to help.

 

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