Establishing Paternity in Wisconsin

There are four ways to establish legal fatherhood according to Wisconsin paternity statues: voluntary paternity acknowledgement, court ruling, conclusive paternity determination based on genetic test results, or acknowledgment of a marital child.

What Does Paternity Mean?

Paternity is someone being legally acknowledged as the biological father of a child. The establishment of paternity allows a father to participate in custody, placement, and child support. Paternity is outlined in the state statutes under the chapter Actions Affecting the Family, subchapter Paternity, starting at 767.80.

How Is Paternity Established in Wisconsin?

A father in Wisconsin establishes paternity in one of four ways: A Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgement, An Acknowledgement of a Marital Child, A Court Ruling, or Genetic Testing.

Only the parents can establish paternity, but someone who is necessarily linked to the case can file a petition to establish paternity. These people include:

  • The child's biological (birth) mother,
  • The person claiming to be the child's father,
  • A person with custody of the child,
  • The child themselves,
  • The guardian ad litem (GAL),
  • The State of Wisconsin, or
  • A grandparent (if a parent is dependent on that grandparent)

1.) Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment (VPA)

Parents have the ability to sign the VPA form at the child’s birth to legally establish paternity. This legal establishment means that the court can order child support without needing a hearing to establish paternity first, but it does not give the father any custody or placement of the child. You can use this form to establish paternity at any time before the child turns 19.

Furthermore, the VPA cannot be used to establish paternity if the mother is married to another person because marital presumption (explained next) takes precedence.

What if You Change Your Mind After Signing the VPA?

If you believe the filed voluntary paternity acknowledgement (VPA) is incorrect, then you have the ability to file a request to withdraw the VPA. You can file for this as long as the court hasn’t ruled on a family matter regarding a parent or the child.

This request has to be filed within 60 days of the original VPA’s filing. If it has been more than 60 days or the court already ruled on the case, then you have to work with the court to change paternity.[1]

2.) Marital Presumption or Acknowledgement of a Marital Child

If the child is born or conceived while the parents are married, then the man is legally assumed to be the father of the child. Marital presumption also establishes parentage for same-sex couples. 

If the parents get married after the child is born and they were in a relationship at the time of conception, then they simply need to sign the acknowledgement of a marital child form in front of a notary and send it to Wisconsin's Office of Vital Records.[2] This ensures that the father's name is on the birth certificate and that his paternity is established. The form is available at your local child support or Vital Statistics office.

Marital presumption and the VPA can be overruled by the courts with the proof of genetic testing.

3.) Court Ruling

If the parties claiming to be the parents of a child disagree on paternity, they schedule a hearing with the court. If the potential father does not show up to court, the court has the ability to name him the father as a default ruling and child support can be established.

It is important to speak with a family law attorney before these hearings, so you are prepared and know what the best course of action is for your situation. Here at Sterling Lawyers, we help with paternity actions and the custody, placement, or child support cases that come afterwards.

If either party wants proof of whether or not the potential father is the biological father, then the court orders genetic testing.[3]

4.) Genetic Testing for Conclusive Paternity Determination

Genetic testing will prove whether the person in question is the biological parent of the child. The paternity test is done on cells obtained from a cheek swab. It's a little confusing, but the test needs to not rule out the tested person as a potential match. So, it must show that the statistical probability of him being the father is 99.0% or higher.

The 2019 Senate Bill 158 also allows parents to use genetic testing to establish paternity outside the courts. There is now an easy administrative process to prove paternity without the need for a hearing. This process begins with a subpoena from the child support agency to have the child, mother, and father genetically tested.[4]

Who Pays for the Genetic Tests?

The county pays for the genetic testing, but the court has the ability to order either party to reimburse the county if they find one or both parties have enough money.

For Immediate help with your family law case or answering any questions please call (262) 221-8123 now!

Why Establish Paternity?

Questions surrounding paternity usually arise in cases that involve a child born to unmarried parents. Establishing paternity in these cases is beneficial because it:

  • Ensures the legal rights of the father.
  • Allows the child to know who their father is.
  • Gives rights for tribal enrollment if applicable.
  • Allows access to their father’s health insurance.
  • Provides knowledge of health records from both parents.
  • Ensures the child’s right to inherit from both parents and has eligibility for death benefits such as Social Security, military/VA benefits, and pensions.

Paternity also allows a child to receive support from both parents until they are an adult. Even if the parents are living together unmarried, the child's rights are guaranteed with legal fatherhood. If they do not live together, the father can ask for visitation and/or custody rights and submit a parenting plan to the court.

Once paternity is established, the father's name will be added to the child's birth certificate if it’s not already there. Also, if a mother wanted to put their child up for adoption, the biological father would have to be a part of the process now.

Are you ready to move forward? Call (262) 221-8123 to schedule a strategy session with one of our attorneys.


Can You Get a Paternity Test While Pregnant?

A paternity case can be brought to the courts before the child is born. Usually, the case will be on hold until the child is born, but there is the technology to test the DNA of an unborn child through a variety of methods.

Can I Refuse a Court-Ordered Paternity Test?

If someone refuses genetic testing, they can be held in contempt of court. If a potential father does not show up for the paternity hearing, then the court has the ability to deem him the father.

Will the Father Have to Pay Child Support?

Either party could pay child support. Child support can be calculated using the custody and placement of the child and the amount of money each party makes. More often, the father is the one paying child support.

For Immediate help with your family law case or answering any questions please call (262) 221-8123 now!

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I establish paternity in Wisconsin?

Paternity can be established through either signing the voluntary paternity acknowledgement form, being/getting married to the other party, proving through genetic testing, or the court ruling on who the father is. Establishing paternity is the first step to getting child custody.

What are the three ways to establish paternity?

There are actually four ways, but two of them are very close. Either you sign the VPA at birth, you are/get married to the other parent, or the court rules it. The court can either rule it on their own if the father doesn’t show up to court or it can be proven through genetic testing.

What is the easiest way to establish paternity?

The easiest way to establish paternity is by signing the voluntary paternity acknowledgement form when the child is born or by the parents being married when the child is born.

How much does a paternity test cost in Wisconsin?

Usually, a paternity test is under $50 for each party, but it varies depending on the county as each county uses different providers. A paternity test is paid for by the county, but at the end of the case, if the court deems either party to have enough money, then they will order them to reimburse the county for the genetic testing fees.

What happens if you deny paternity?

If you do not believe you are the father, then do not sign the VPA. If the mother takes you to court for paternity, then you take the genetic test to prove whether or not you are not the father.

What rights do fathers have in Wisconsin?

Once paternity is established, the father’s rights are the same rights as the mother’s. Wisconsin courts cannot decide child custody based on the gender of the parent. Rather, they decide based on what is in the child's best interest.

How long does a mother have to establish paternity?

In Wisconsin law, the statute of limitations to establish paternity in Wisconsin is 19 years after the child is born.[5] So, paternity can be sought and established at any time before the child turns 19 years old.

Does establishing paternity give fathers rights?

Yes, establishing paternity gives fathers rights to pursue custody and placement of a child. However, before paternity is established, fathers have no rights and the mother has sole custody of the child.

How can you prove paternity without a DNA test?

While there are other ways to establish paternity, those ways can be overturned by a DNA test. So, the only way to establish paternity without any doubt is through a genetic test.

References: Video by | 1. Establishing Legal Fatherhood (Paternity). Wisconsin Department of Children and Families. | 2. WI Statute, 891.41 § (1)(a-b). Presumptions. | 3. WI Statute, 767.84 § (1)(a)3a. Paternity. | 4. New Law Allows Genetic Testing to Administratively Determine Paternity. State Bar of Wisconsin. (2020, Feb 3). | 5. WI Statute, 893.88. Statutes of Limitations; Actions by the State, Statutory Liability, and Miscellaneous Actions.

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