"Paternity" refers to the established, legal relationship between a father and child. Paternity allows a father to assert custody and visitation rights with his child. Paternity also imposes a legal obligation on the father to financially support his child.
When the parents of a child are married, or were married at the time of conception, paternity is automatically established between the husband and the child. But when parents aren’t married, as is very often the case nowadays, paternity must be established before a court will enforce any of the father's rights or obligations.
This article will explain how paternity is established in Wisconsin. If you have questions after reading this article, you should contact an experienced family law attorney for help.
In Wisconsin, paternity is most easily established when the parents agree and sign paperwork saying that the father is the biological parent of the child; this is called acknowledging paternity. A court can also decide paternity if one or both parents aren’t certain of the biological father of the child.
Parents can acknowledge paternity in Wisconsin by signing a statement that affirms a man is the biological father of a child. The statement must be filed with the Wisconsin state registrar. After the statement acknowledging paternity has been filed, either parent can file a case in the county circuit court asking a judge to decide custody, visitation, and child support issues.
Click here for more information about child support in Wisconsin.
In Wisconsin, you have 60 days after signing a statement acknowledging paternity to rescind it (take it back). To take back a statement acknowledging paternity after 60 days, you’ll have to prove that you only signed the acknowledgment because of duress, fraud, or a material mistake of fact.
If it has been more than 60 days since you signed a statement acknowledging paternity and you want to rescind it, you should contact an experienced family law attorney in your area.
Don’t sign a statement acknowledging paternity if you are not completely sure about paternity of the child. Once the affidavit has been signed, the court may make orders about the rights and obligations that go along with paternity, and it’s much more difficult to reverse those orders after you’ve acknowledged paternity.
If the mother and possible father don’t agree on paternity, either one can file a petition to establish paternity in the circuit court of the county where the child lives. After filing the petition, you’ll have to serve the other parent with a copy of it. Once you’ve served the other parent, the court will set a hearing date to determine paternity.
If a mother files a petition to establish paternity and the potential father can’t afford an attorney, the court may appoint one for him. If either the mother or potential father request genetic tests, the court can order the potential father and child to be tested to determine the probability that the potential father is a biological parent of the child. If the tests show the chances that male is the father of the child are higher than 99%, paternity will be established unless there is other convincing proof he is not the father.
Any of the following people can file a petition to establish paternity:
In Wisconsin, after a petition to establish paternity has been filed, the court will hold a pretrial hearing. At the pretrial hearing, either side can present evidence and witnesses proving or disproving paternity, including genetic test results. The court will then make a recommendation that the case either be dismissed, or that the father acknowledge paternity.
If the father acknowledges paternity after the pretrial hearing, the court can also recommend a child support amount and a visitation schedule for the child. If the parents do not agree, those issues will be decided at a later trial. The judge will decide those issues at the trial, unless one parent requests a jury trial, where at least 5 of 6 jurors have to agree and will decide child support, custody and visitation.
The State of Wisconsin believes that children are almost always better off when paternity is established. Children should know who their parents are. Children have the right to be financially supported by both parents. Children have the right to be visited by both parents and have both parents contribute to the decisions that affect their future.
Once paternity has been established, children can also inherit from either parent, and possibly receive benefits through their parents, such as health insurance, Social Security or veterans’ benefits. Children can also receive life-saving medical care when they have complete access to both parents’ medical histories and information about potential inherited conditions.
Parents benefit when two (rather than just one) parents financially support the child - this helps relieve the heavy financial burdens placed on single parents and also typically increases the child's quality of life.
Legal fathers can assert their rights to spend time with their children and share in custodial decisions. Finally, it's almost always best to have two parents sharing the responsibilities of taking care of their child and contributing to his or her development.
Click here to learn more about child custody in Wisconsin.
See an experienced local family law attorney if you have additional questions about establishing paternity in Wisconsin.
To read the full text of Wisconsin law on paternity, see the Wisconsin Statutes, Chapter 767, Subchapter IX
Here are the local child support agencies for Wisconsin.