Fathers Rights in Wisconsin

Once paternity has been established, father's rights in Wisconsin are the same parental rights as mother's. According to Wisconsin Law, the court can then order custody and placement that’s in the best interest of your child. A close relationship with both parents is 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 explicitly stated for each parent to follow and abide by.

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 for both parents 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. 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 would be to file a petition to establish paternity. Within the petition, it should address why the party believes that a particular man is the father. After that, the alleged father has a couple of options when filing a written response to the allegations:

  • Agree that they 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 you acknowledge that you are the father, and the court accepts the formal written response, you will forever be considered the father. Also, if the man contests paternity, a DNA test will be required to determine paternity. If he is found to be the father, the court will order child support according to Wisconsin’s guidelines.[1]


How Is Child Custody Determined?

The court will decide custody based on the best interest of the child and allocate 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 50/50, joint custody. Wisconsin courts base their decision on custody and placement factors such as a history of domestic violence, abuse or neglect, each parent's ability to provide a stable home that cares for the child's physical and mental needs, and the mental and physical health of each parent.[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 preferential rights 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.

Frequently Asked Questions

What rights do fathers have in Wisconsin?

Fathers have the same rights as mothers as long as paternity has been established legally. 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 unfit 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 the standard is for both parents to have joint custody over the child or children. The physical placement of the child does not have a standard 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 legal custody can be defined as a parenting schedule that focuses on the joint or shared decision-making of a child. An example of a joint decision may be the diet or food a child eats throughout the day.

Is child support paid during joint custody?

Child support must still be paid during joint custody. When determining whether child support is needed, the court considers the income and earning potential of both parents in order to ensure that both parents can provide for the child fairly. Luckily there are resources available to help determine child support through a 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.

Can I modify child custody orders?

Child custody orders can not be modified until after two years have passed from the time of the final judgment date unless under extraordinary circumstances. This allows both parents and children 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 neglectfulness and abuse, substance abuse by a parent, 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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