Father's Rights in Wisconsin

In Wisconsin once paternity has been established, the father's rights are the same as the mother's parental rights. Under Wisconsin law, the court orders custody and placement based on the best interest of the child. And a close relationship with both parents is often beneficial for the child.

What Are a Father’s Rights in Wisconsin?

Father’s rights refer to issues within family law that affect the relationship between the father and child or children. This is mainly centered around the issues of child custody, child placement, and child support. The rights of a father depend largely on whether or not paternity has been established.

Divorced Father's Rights

After a divorce, both parents have equal rights to the child unless a court order says otherwise. A court order is an official rule set in place by a judge that outlines the legal relationship between the parties. Within the court order, both child custody and child placement expectations are outlined in detail for each parent to follow.

Unmarried Father's Rights

If the parents are not married, Wisconsin law does not give the father rights by default. This means that until the father establishes paternity, the mother has sole custody. Paternity can be established in a couple of different ways.

Voluntary Agreement Between the Parents

The quickest and easiest way to establish paternity is for the father to sign the Wisconsin Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment form at the child's birth. However, there are other options available that can be used to establish paternity in Wisconsin. After establishing paternity, the father can move to gain custody and/or placement of the child. Establishing paternity also allows the mother to move to establish child support. If paternity is not established right away, the concerned party will have to file a paternity action.

Filing a Paternity Action

A paternity action is a proceeding where the court legally determines whether or not someone is the father of the child. To file a paternity action, the first step is to file a petition to establish paternity. You outline why you believe you are the father in the petition. After that, the other party has a couple of options when filing a written response to the allegations:

  • Agree that you are the father and allow the court to create a formal proclamation as such.
  • Formally object to the allegations by contesting them.

It is important to note that if the other party acknowledges that you are the father, and the court accepts the formal written response, you will forever be considered the father. Also, if the other party contests paternity, a DNA test will be required to determine paternity. If you is found to be the father, the court will order child support according to Wisconsin’s guidelines.[1]

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How Is Child Custody Determined?

The court decides custody based on the best interest of the child and allocates custody to the parent who they believe is fit to parent the child. The base for custody in Wisconsin is 50/50, so unless there is a reason for it to be otherwise, it should be joint custody. Wisconsin courts base their decision on custody and placement factors such as each parent's ability to provide a stable home that cares for the child's physical and mental needs and a history of domestic violence, abuse, or neglect.[2]

Do Fathers Have the Same Parental Rights as Mothers?

There is a common assumption that the mother has greater child custody rights than a father. But in reality, there are no custody laws in Wisconsin that explicitly give a mother the preferential right to custody of the child.

How Do Wisconsin Courts Determine Child Custody?

In the state of Wisconsin, the custody and placement of the child are contingent upon the parenting plan. The parenting plan is an outline that takes into account the best interests of the child.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What rights do fathers have in Wisconsin?

Fathers have the same rights as mothers if paternity has been legally established. If the courts are unsure who the father is, the mother has sole custody of the child.

Do fathers ever get full custody?

Fathers can get full custody. Full custody, or sole custody, is given to one parent if it is proven that the other parent is unfit. A parent can be deemed an unfit parent if they pose a threat to the child's physical safety or mental well-being.

Can a father be denied joint custody?

A father can be denied joint custody, but it is more common for both parents to have joint custody over the child or children. The physical placement of the child does not have a usual schedule in the same way because there are more factors that affect where the child should be each day and night.

What is joint custody?

Joint custody is defined as a parenting schedule that focuses on the joint or shared decision-making of a child. An example of a joint decision is the diet or food a child eats throughout the day.

Is child support paid during joint custody?

Child support can still be ordered during joint custody. When determining whether child support is needed, the court considers the income and earning potential of both parents to ensure that each parent can provide for the child. Luckily there are resources available to help determine child support such as our child support calculator.

Can a parent refuse to allow visitation if child support is not paid?

Child support and visitation rights are two separate issues. As a result, a parent who does not pay child support cannot be denied visitation. If a parent wants to take action against the other parent for failing to pay child support, they may file a Complaint for Contempt. This will begin the process of enforcing child support.

Can I modify child custody orders?

To modify child custody, you must wait two years after final judgment date unless passed under extraordinary circumstances come up. This allows both parents and children enough time to try to adapt to the new living situation.

What warrants emergency custody of a child?

Emergency custody of a child may be granted only if there is an immediate danger to the health or well-being of a child. Some examples may include neglect, abuse, substance abuse, or a sex offender living with the child.

References: Video by youtube.com/c/sterlinglawyers | 1. Establishing Legal Fatherhood (Paternity). Wisconsin Department of Children and Families. (n.d.) | 2. WI Statute, 767.41 § (5)(am)1-16. Child Custody, Placement, and Visitation

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