Paternity helps to establish a father’s right to see their child and participate in decisions affecting that child’s welfare. Conversely, paternity also establishes a father’s obligation to provide financial support for that child until they reach adulthood.
If you are involved in a legal matter regarding paternity, it is important to seek out expert legal advice. The Fox Point paternity lawyers at Karp & Iancu, S.C., can represent you, either as someone looking to establish paternity or defend against such a claim. We understand that paternity disputes are sensitive issues that affect the welfare of you and your entire family. That is why we strive to offer compassionate representation that offers you the legal guidance you need to make informed decisions.
How Wisconsin Law Defines Fatherhood
The simplest scenario with respect to paternity is when the mother and father are married at the time of the child’s birth. Under Wisconsin law, the mother’s husband is presumed to be the child’s father. The father does not have to take any further legal action to establish paternity.
If the mother and father are unmarried, they can still jointly sign a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity. This is a legal form where the man admits he is the child’s father without the need for genetic testing or a court order to establish paternity. This form only works if the mother is unmarried when the child is born. If the mother is married, a Voluntary Acknowledgment cannot be used to establish the paternity of someone other than her husband. Unmarried parents can marry after the child’s birth, however, and sign a Voluntary Acknowledgement afterwards to “legitimate” the child.
There is also a common misconception that genetic testing automatically establishes or proves paternity. That may be true from a scientific standpoint. But in Wisconsin, the result of a genetic test only provides the basis for making a paternity claim. In other words, a mother can cite a genetic test as evidence that a particular man is the father of their child. Or the alleged father can use a negative result to refute a claim of paternity.
How Does a Paternity Case Work in Wisconsin?
When the mother and the alleged father cannot agree on paternity, it is necessary for a court to adjudicate the matter. Either party can file a legal action to determine paternity. In some cases a third party, usually Child Support Enforcement, may also file a paternity action to establish an alleged father’s legal obligations when the mother is receiving public assistance.
Paternity cases work much like any other civil lawsuit in Wisconsin. For instance, when the mother or Child Support Enforcement files a paternity action, the basic process goes as follows:
- The alleged father receives a copy of the paternity action and a date for hearing before a judge.
- If the alleged father appears at the hearing, he can admit or deny paternity. He can also request genetic testing.
- If the alleged father admits paternity, the court will shift to holding a hearing on the terms of child custody, child placement, and child support.
- If the alleged father denies paternity, the court will hold an evidentiary hearing and order genetic testing. If the evidence proves paternity, the judge will again move to hold a hearing on terms as described above.
- If the genetic testing or other evidence excludes the possibility that the alleged father is the actual father, the court will dismiss him from the case. The judge may then question the mother as to other possible fathers.
- If either party objects to the terms established by the court they can ask for a de novo review. The court may appoint a legal guardian to represent the child’s interest in the hearing.
Keep in mind that once a father’s paternity is legally established, he has an obligation to financially support that child. Wisconsin courts follow a set of support guidelines that take into account the father’s income and the number of children that he must support. If the mother previously received public assistance benefits, she may need to assign some of the child support she receives from the father to reimburse the state.
Can You Establish Paternity Despite the Results of Genetic Testing?
In most cases, genetic testing can exclude a man as a child’s biological parent. This usually means they will not be held to be the child’s legal father. But there are exceptions. In rare instances, a court may determine that a man has previously held himself out as the child’s father and only later learned that he was not the biological father. It is possible in such cases for the court to decide it would be in the child’s best interest to declare the man to be the child’s legal father.
It is also important to note that a court may void or invalidate a prior paternity judgment if any of the parties involved engaged in fraud or duress or there was a demonstrable mistake of fact, such as an incorrect genetic test result.
Can You Refuse Genetic Testing in a Wisconsin Paternity Case?
There are situations where the mother or alleged father may insist they “do not want to know” the child’s paternity. But under the law, if a court orders genetic testing, neither side can refuse to comply. Indeed, failing to follow any court order in a paternity case is contempt of court and may lead to imprisonment.