An experienced West Bend parental rights attorney can offer you legal guidance and advice in this area. At Karp & Iancu, S.C., our family law practice is dedicated to representing parents involved in a wide range of custody, child support, and termination of parental rights proceedings. Many parents do not fully appreciate or understand their legal rights and we can help you fill in those gaps.
How Does Wisconsin Law Determine Paternity?
When a mother gives birth, she is automatically assumed under Wisconsin law to have legal custody of that child. If the mother is married at the time of the child’s birth, the man she is married to is assumed to be the father with equal parental rights. If the mother is unmarried, however, establishing the child’s legal paternity often requires additional steps.
If the mother knows who the father is–and the potential father accepts paternity–both parties can sign a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity. If the parents marry after the child’s birth, they can also establish legal paternity simply by filling out a form. But if paternity is disputed in any way, legal action may be necessary. This usually involves a court hearing and genetic testing of the mother, child, and the potential father.
How Does Wisconsin Law Establish Custody?
In a legal sense, custody of a child refers to a parent’s decision-making authority over key issues such as where the child will live, attend school, and so forth. When a child has both a mother and father, they will typically exercise joint custody unless a court determines otherwise. It is important to note that custody is not the same thing as placement, which refers to where the child lives and spends time.
If parents are unmarried and living separately, a judge can award primary placement to one parent, meaning the child spends more than 75 percent of their nights with that parent. If each parent has at least 25 percent of nights, that is considered shared placement.
Contrary to what some people still assume, courts are not supposed to favor the mother over the father when it comes to determining issues of custody and placement. The legal standard governing all such decisions is what would be in the “best interests of the child.” In considering a child’s best interests, a Wisconsin judge will look at a number of factors, including the following:
- the relative physical and mental health of each parent;
- whether or not the child has any special physical, emotional, or developmental needs;
- each parent’s respective history of caring for the child;
- the wishes of the parents, and of the child if they are old enough to express them; and
- whether there has been any history of domestic violence with either parent.