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This article serves as a general overview of paternity in Wisconsin and why you might want to consider a paternity lawsuit.

In Wisconsin if you want to have the biological father of a child held legally responsible for the care of that child, you might have to file a Wisconsin paternity action. In general, the State of Wisconsin believes that a child has the right to know both parents, regardless of the relationship between the parents.  While there are several ways to formalize paternity, if the biological father won’t acknowledge the child or you are unmarried and unable to have the father acknowledge the child, there are steps you can take to enforce the rights of your child. Here is a general overview of paternity in Wisconsin and why you might want to consider a paternity lawsuit.

How is paternity established in Wisconsin?

DNA testing

With DNA testing so easy to access there is no rational excuse why an alleged biological father wouldn’t go and have a DNA test done to see if the child is his. Voluntarily going in for DNA testing is one of the quickest and least expensive ways to verify the biological father of the child. If an alleged father is convinced that a child is not his, then a test will simply validate his assertion. If an alleged father stubbornly refuses not to be tested and continues to claim the child is not his, he might just be prolonging the inevitable, which is being ordered by the court to take a test and then, if the test shows paternity, to pay support for the child after a court issues a ruling on paternity.  

Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment

Another simple and straightforward way to deal with paternity is to sign a voluntary paternity acknowledgment. The voluntary acknowledgment is a simple form that you can fill out if both parents are 18 or over. If either parent wants genetic testing first do not fill out the form until the testing has been completed. This is usually done if the parties are unmarried but feel very certain of the paternity of the child. If neither parent wants genetic testing you should fill out and sign the form as soon as possible after the birth of the child.  

Marital Child

If a man and a woman are married then any child born during their marriage is automatically assumed to be the biological child of the husband. However, more and more couples are having children and then getting married afterward. If that is the case, it is important that after you marry that you and your spouse fill out a form called “acknowledgment of marital child.” Once you have filled out the form, sign the form in front of a notary and mail it to the Wisconsin Office of Vital Records. This will ensure that everyone has the correct information regarding the paternity and attached legal rights of the child.  

Court Ruling after filing paternity action

Unfortunately, for various reasons, sometimes the alleged biological father does not want to acknowledge the child or perhaps a man believes that a mother is trying to make him support and care for a child that is not his. At this point the mother will need to file a Wisconsin paternity lawsuit.

Why should I have my child’s paternity legally acknowledged?

Generally you want to have the child’s paternity established so that the father can assist with medical care, financial support and even get a custody order in place for visitation. Again, Wisconsin believes that a child has the right to know both their parents, which would include spending time together with the non-custodial parent. Here is a non-exhaustive list of other reasons to establish paternity in Wisconsin:

  • So that the child will have a legal father
  • So that the child will have a right to any legal benefits available through the relationship to the father (examples would be life insurance or social security benefits)
  • So that the child would be able to legally inherit
  • So that the child would have a place to go in the event of untimely death
  • So that the child will have access to their genetic history if they need it

Filing a paternity lawsuit in Wisconsin

Either the mother or the alleged father has the right to file a paternity action in Wisconsin. If the mother asks for state program benefits, the state Child Support Agency will typically file a paternity action but that does not mean that the Child Support Agency is doing it on the mother’s behalf, they are not representing the mother, it is done in the interest of the child.  

Once the action is filed the alleged father or fathers are summoned into court where they are given the opportunity to admit, deny or request that genetic testing be conducted. If the alleged father admits that he is the father the court will establish things like amount of child support, medical coverage and visitation rights. If either parent does not like what the court ordered, they can request that the court review the situation “de novo” or basically examine the surrounding facts and circumstances as if the previous order had not been entered.  

Can I fight a paternity lawsuit?

Yes, you can always fight a paternity lawsuit. If you do not agree that you are the father you can deny that you are. The court will schedule a hearing time to examine any evidence you have that shows you are not the father. Genetic testing results will also be collected and presented. If it is shown that you are not the biological father you will be dismissed from the case. If you wish to challenge the results of the genetic testing you can request a trial. It is advisable that you hire an attorney to assist you in fighting a Wisconsin paternity action so that you are properly informed and aware of your rights.  

If paternity is proven, what can I expect?

As touched on briefly above, if paternity is proven you can expect the court to enter an order stating what your legal and financial responsibilities are to the child. The court will establish responsibility for child support, medical insurance and visitation. If you disagree with the court’s ruling in regard to these items, you can ask for a de novo hearing where you have the opportunity to have terms entered in to a ruling that are more agreeable to you.  

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