Understanding Paternity In Wisconsin

Paternity is the legal relationship between a father and his children when he is not married to the mother. It affects all legal aspects of that relationship, including child support as well as child custody and placement (visitation). For example, if a father has not been established as the legal father, he has no custodial or placement (visitation) rights. However, he also has no obligation to pay child support.

Mothers seeking child support from a father must make sure paternity is established before they can pursue contribution on their child’s behalf.

Fathers or mothers interested in exercising their rights and responsibilities as parents or individuals looking to contest or establish paternity should speak to the experienced paternity lawyers at Nelson, Krueger & Millenbach, LLC. Our team of dedicated attorneys are skilled problem-solvers who are passionate about representing the interests of their clients.

Establishing Paternity In Wisconsin

In Wisconsin, paternity can be established in different ways:

  • Marital presumption of paternity — If the couple is married at the time the child is born, the husband is legally assumed to be the father. In many cases, the marital presumption can be overcome if DNA or another form of genetic testing shows another man has a 99 percent chance of being the father.
  • Voluntary acknowledgment of paternity — If the couple is not married, the father can complete and submit a voluntary paternity acknowledgment form at the time of the child’s birth. A court hearing is still required to legally establish paternity and make court orders with regards to the child. However, if the father has signed this form, he is presumed to be the father. Please note: It is important to understand however, that by signing this form, a father does not have any custodial or placement rights nor does he have any child support obligation. A court hearing must be held to determine these issues.
  • Genetic testing — Genetic testing is the study of genetic markers contained in body samples such as hair, saliva, blood, skin and other tissue to determine the probability of a genetic relationship between two people. If the father denies or has doubts that the child is his, the court can order mandatory genetic testing. If there is any doubt regarding paternity, genetic testing is always a good idea.



Frequently Asked Questions About Paternity

When Does A Father Gain Rights To His Child?

A father will gain enforceable rights to pursue custody and placement once a court has legally found him to be the father (this is called adjudication). In Wisconsin, an unmarried father must be adjudicated before he has enforceable rights to his children.

Once adjudicated as a father, courts will order terms, including the custody, placement and support of a child. A court hearing is necessary to establish terms such as placement, custody and child support.

What Does “Adjudication” Mean, And How Does An Alleged Father Become Adjudicated?

Adjudication is the formal recognition of an alleged father as the legal father of a child born to unmarried parents. Prior to an adjudication, an alleged father has no rights to a child. Adjudication can occur one of two ways:

  1. If both the mother and alleged father are certain of the paternity of the child, then a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity may be signed. This document is presented at the hospital after the birth of the child. If the alleged father is not present at the birth, the document can be obtained by contacting Wisconsin Vital Records.
  2. If one or both of the parties are unsure of the paternity of the child, then a DNA test should be conducted to confirm or exclude the alleged father as the legal father of the child.

What Rights Does An Alleged Father Have During The Pregnancy Of The Mother?

Until paternity can be established either by a DNA test or an acknowledgment of paternity, an alleged father has no rights to the child.

What Is Gained By Establishing Paternity?

Paternity confers rights and obligations between the father and the child. Once paternity is established, either parent can petition for custody and placement (visitation). If joint legal custody is awarded, the father will be able to participate in decisions about the child’s education, religion and health.

Paternity also creates obligations for both parents. Either parent can ask the court to order child support, to include the child on his/her health insurance plan and to pay expenses for the child such as medical bills, child care or birth expenses.

After paternity has been established, a child can also inherit from the father and vice-versa.

How Does An Alleged Father Obtain Placement And Custody Rights To A Child?

Once a man is adjudicated as the legal father of a child, the Court will order “terms” relating to the custody, placement and support of the child. Simply being adjudicated does not give a father any rights to custody or placement, nor does adjudication mandate the payment of child support. The process of establishing custody, placement and support can be resolved by the agreement of the parties or by a paternity action being filed and subsequently litigated with the Court. A judgment of paternity must be entered and approved by the court before a father has enforceable rights for custody and placement.

What Factors Will The Court Consider When Ordering Custody?

There is a (rebuttable) presumption in Wisconsin’s statutes that parties should share joint legal custody of a child. Legal Custody is the right to make legal decisions regarding a child such as where they go to school, medical-related decisions (such as therapy), and religious upbringing, among other things. The Court may order sole legal custody to one parent in cases of domestic abuse or if the Court determines that joint legal custody is not in a child’s best interest.

What Factors Will The Court Consider In Determining Placement?

There are a number of factors that the Court will consider when determining placement. The age of the child, distance the parents live from each other, work schedules, parents’ ability to communicate, and best interest of the child are only some examples of what the Court will consider when determining placement. A Court will not automatically award primary placement to the mother simply because she is the mother. The statute requires that the Court maximize the amount of meaningful time each parent has with the child. This provision does not necessarily require that the court order equal time – merely that the Court consider the specifics of the case and allocate placement appropriately. Please see our Custody and Placement FAQ’s for additional information.

What is a Guardian Ad Litem?

In cases where paternity is being challenged or there is a custody or placement dispute, the court will appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the best interests of any minor children. The guardian ad litem will make recommendations as to what is in the best interests of the child.

What If I Disagree With The Placement Schedule Ordered By The Court?

Typically, the initial hearing, if the parents cannot agree on a placement schedule, they will be ordered to participate in mediation. If mediation is unsuccessful, then either a custody study will be ordered, and/or a guardian ad litem will be appointed. The Guardian ad Litem will complete an investigation and make a recommendation to the Court as to what he/she believes to be in the best interest of the child.

Will Child Support Be Ordered?

Yes. Once a father is adjudicated, the obligation to support the child will be addressed by the court. This does not necessarily mean that the father will be the one paying the support, since child support orders depend on the placement schedule.

How Much Child Support Will I Have To Pay?

Please see our FAQs on child support.


Get Help With Paternity Matters

For help with establishing paternity or responding to a paternity action filed by another individual, call us at (414) 258-1644 to schedule a free initial consultation with an attorney at Nelson, Krueger & Millenbach, LLC. We accept all major credit cards.