First time fathers and mothers are sometimes surprised to learn the legal actions required to establish legal fatherhood or paternity in the state of Wisconsin. How paternity is established depends upon the martial status and age of the parents.
If the father and mother are married at the time the child is born:
It is legally assumed that the child is the biological child of the married couple and both parents have all the rights and responsibilities to care for and provide financial support for the child. This is called the marital presumption in the state of Wisconsin. If the husband or wife believes that the husband is not the biological parent of the child, or if someone else believes that he himself is the biological father of the child, any of these individuals may begin a court action to argue against or rebut the presumption that the child is the biological child of the married couple.
If any man believes that he is the biological father of a child and wishes to have legal rights to parent that child, the man should consult an attorney and begin legal action immediately. The man who believes he is the father of the child but has not yet been established as the father is referred to as the putative father. The court must take into consideration the best interest of the child when making a determination as to whether the martial presumption will be overcome. If a number of years pass and the husband who is not the biological father has established a relationship with the child and the child is not aware that another man is his father, it will be much more difficult to overcome the marital presumption and have another man declared the father.
If the father and mother are married after the child is born:
The father and mother may sign a form called, “Acknowledgement of Marital Child.” This will establish the same rights as if the father and mother were married at the time the child was born.
If the father and mother are not married and the father is over 18, paternity may be established through one of two ways:
1. Voluntary Acknowledgment
The father may have his rights established if both the father and mother sign the “Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment Form.” This form conclusively establishes that the man is the father of the child, and it is the same as if the court issues an order indicating that the man is the father. The father and mother should only sign this form if they are certain beyond any doubt that the man is the biological father of the child. This form will be provided to the parents at all Wisconsin hospitals and can be signed and notarized at the hospital.
2. Court Order
The mother, the putative father, or the State of Wisconsin may begin an action in court to determine the paternity of the child. The county child support agency offers DNA testing at reduced rates, and the mother or the putative father may contact the child support agency to begin the process of establishing paternity. The court will make an order establishing paternity after the court has heard the evidence regarding paternity.
If the father and mother are not married and the father is under 18:
Paternity may only be established through an order of the court. The court will appoint an attorney for the putative father because he is still a minor.