How Is Paternity Established In Wisconsin?

A child's paternity is established by the father's voluntary acknowledgment, a court hearing, or by the child's unmarried parents signing a form and filing it when they get married. DNA testing can be requested by the court or by either party. Court hearings are scheduled when the mother names the father and he doesn't agree, as well as if the mother disagrees with the father.

Why Establish Paternity?

Questions surrounding paternity usually arise in cases that involve a child born to unwed parents. If the child or children's biological father is in doubt, DNA testing can be used to resolve a wide variety of legal issues, which include:

  • Ensure the legal rights of the father
  • Provide the child with health insurance
  • Access available medical and genetic information from both parents
  • Ensure that the child has the right to inherit from both parents, and be eligible for death benefits (Social Security, military/VA benefits, and pension)
  • Give rights to tribal enrollment (for Native American children)
  • Give the child a sense of identity and heritage, knowing who his or her father is

Paternity also allows a child to receive support from both parents until he or she is an adult. Even if the parents are living together without marriage, the child's rights are guaranteed with legal fatherhood. If they do not live together, the father can also ask for visitation and/or custody rights, and submit a parenting plan to the court.

Children born in a marriage are presumed to be the biological child of both parents unless proven otherwise with DNA testing.

Should a child be placed for adoption, the father's permission will be required. Once established, the father's name will be added to the child's birth certificate if it's not already added.

Wisconsin's Process for Establishing Paternity
There are three methods to establish paternity in Wisconsin:

  • The Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgement–this is a form both parents sign when a baby is born (usually, the parents are unmarried.)
  • Court Ruling–if a mother names a father for her baby, but the father disagrees, a court hearing is scheduled to review the evidence. Both parents should attend. The court will make a ruling on the child's paternity, and the father's rights will be explained to him. He can request genetic testing at the hearing to prove that he is or isn't the father.
  • Legitimation, or Acknowledgment of Marital Child–if the parents get married after the child is born, they simply need to sign this form in front of a notary and send it to Wisconsin's Office of Vital Records. This ensures that the father's name is on the birth certificate and that his paternity is established. The form is available from local child support and Vital Statistics offices. The mailing address is on the form.

Who Can Request Paternity To Be Established? 
Anyone of these individuals can file a petition to establish paternity in Wisconsin:

  • The child's biological (birth) mother
  • Male claiming to be the child's father
  • The child itself
  • The individual with legal and/or physical custody
  • A guardian ad litem (GAL), a court-appointed attorney appointed to represent the best interests of the child in question
  • A grandparent, if the parent is dependent on that grandparent
  • The State of Wisconsin

What To Consider Before Establishing Paternity
If the individual claiming to be the father signs the Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgement, paternity is established. Should the parents not be together, it is expected that the father will begin paying child support, including back child support due, birth expenses, and providing health insurance if needed. Failing to pay support can result in a jail sentence.

If there is any question about paternity, genetic testing can be requested. If paternity testing is required, it's done in the county where you live. Once the Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgement is signed and recorded, you'll need additional evidence to overturn it.

If the mother is marrying a man who is not the father, she may want to shield the father from the legal and financial obligations associated with paternity.

Should the mother be concerned about domestic and/or child abuse, establishing paternity may not be in the child's best interest.

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