Wisconsin law in this area can seem quite complicated for people who have never been through the process before, which can often lead to mistaken assumptions about what someone must do in these situations.
An experienced Brookfield paternity attorney can help. At Karp & Iancu S.C. our Wisconsin family law practice can assist you if you are looking to establish paternity over a child, or if you are looking to enforce certain legal rights related to paternity. In some cases, it may not be necessary to take any formal steps to establish paternity, which is why we can review your specific circumstances and provide you with appropriate legal advice on how to proceed.
Why Does Paternity Matter?
Aside from your child knowing who their father is, establishing paternity comes with a number of legal benefits. First and foremost, the father can be required to provide financial support to the child until they reach adulthood. A child also has certain rights with respect to the father’s Social Security and pension benefits, as well as the right to inherit from the father’s estate under Wisconsin intestacy laws. From the father’s standpoint, establishing paternity gives them the right to be named on the child’s birth certificate, the right to seek custody and visitation, and the right to be consulted before the child is placed for adoption.
How Do You Establish Paternity in Wisconsin?
There are basically five ways to establish legal paternity in Wisconsin:
- Marriage prior to birth – When a child is born to married parents, the law assumes that the mother’s husband is the father. It is not necessary for the father to take any additional action to establish paternity. But if someone else claims to be the actual father, they can take legal action to overcome this presumption.
- Acknowledgment of a Marital Child – If the child’s mother is unmarried at the time of birth but later marries, the couple can sign a legal document known as an Acknowledgment of a Marital Child to establish the husband’s paternity. This does not require a formal court proceeding, but the Acknowledgment should be signed in the presence of a Notary Public.
- Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment – A mother and putative father can also sign a Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment even if they are not married or otherwise in a relationship. Either party can withdraw this acknowledgment within 60 days, however, so long as there has not been a court ruling on the subject.
- Genetic Testing – In Wisconsin, a county child support agency can issue an administrative subpoena requiring a mother, child, and putative father to submit to genetic testing. If the results show the putative father’s statistical probability of paternity is at least 99 percent, that is sufficient to establish legal paternity if no other paternity presumption applies.
- Court Order – If the mother and putative father disagree as to paternity, they can take the matter to court. A judge will then hold a hearing and make a legally binding decision regarding paternity.
Keep in mind, either party can seek a court hearing. Indeed, a putative father can sue the mother to establish paternity even if she claims someone else is the child’s father. And under Wisconsin law, a party can bring a paternity action at any time before the child is 19 years old.
As with any legal proceeding, both sides have the right to be represented by counsel and present evidence. In some cases, a local child support agency may be a party to a paternity action, but they do not legally represent the mother. The court may also appoint an attorney known as a guardian ad litem to represent the child’s interests.