While these rights are not absolute–and can even be voluntarily relinquished in certain circumstances–there is still a high legal barrier to terminate the legal relationship between a parent and child.
The experienced Brookfield parental rights attorneys at Karp & Iancu, S.C., can advise you if you are involved in a legal dispute regarding parental rights. Whether you are looking to establish paternity over a child or defending yourself against a legal effort to terminate your parental rights, we can provide you with skilled and compassionate representation.
How Do You Establish Your Parental Rights in Wisconsin?
When a child is born to a married couple, the law assumes they are both the child’s parents. In the case of an unmarried birth mother, she is presumed to be the child’s legal mother. The father’s paternity must be separately established in one of three ways:
- A Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment – The father and the mother can sign a form acknowledging the father’s paternity after the child is born; this is not an option if the child was conceived or born when the mother was married to another person.
- An Acknowledgment of Marital Child – Also known as “legitimation,” this is similar to a Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment, but it applies to a situation where the mother and father marry after the child is born.
- A court order – A judge can legally declare someone is (or is not) a child’s father after holding a hearing; if the putative father does not appear or fails to contest a mother’s request for a declaration of paternity, the court may enter a default judgment.
In cases where paternity is in dispute, it is often necessary to conduct genetic testing. This is commonly done by taking a genetic sample from the inside of the child’s mouth using a cotton swab, although in some cases a blood test may be used instead. Under Wisconsin law, if the genetic test shows a 99 percent or greater probability of paternity, that is enough to declare that a man is the child’s father.
Establishing legal paternity is crucial for a father to exercise a number of parental rights, including but not limited to the following:
- A father’s parental rights must be considered before a child can be placed for adoption.
- A father has the right to ask the court for custody or physical placement with the child.
- A father has the right to submit a parenting plan to the court.
It is important to note that Wisconsin law no longer automatically presumes that mothers should be granted sole custody or physical placement with a child. The law requires a judge to consider the best interests of the child in all such matters. This means looking at a number of factors that may favor either parent, such as their respective health, the child’s health and special needs, any history of domestic violence, and the respective wishes of all parties involved.
The Difference Between Custody and Physical Placement
“Custody” of a child refers to a parent’s rights–and responsibilities–to make certain major decisions concerning their minor child. This includes matters like education, health care, and religion. If parents have joint legal custody, they share this decision-making authority. If one parent has sole custody, then they alone have the legal right to make these decisions. (Even in a joint custody situation, one parent may exercise decision-making over a specific issue if both parents agree or a court orders as such.)
Custody is also a separate concept from “physical placement,” which is the term that Wisconsin law uses to describe physical custody. As with custody, both parents may exercise joint physical placement–i.e., the child lives with each parent at different specified periods. Or one parent may have sole physical placement, in which case the other parent has visitation rights.
While parents have visitation rights, that does not necessarily mean they will receive “equal time” with their child. Again, if the parents cannot agree on a visitation schedule a court will look to what is in the child’s best interests.