What is paternity and why is it important? It allows you to be legally involved in the child’s life. It also allows you to be named on the child’s birth certificate. Establishing paternity/parentage allows the parent to gain rights to the child and also gives the parent responsibilities related to the child. Determining parentage gives the parent the right to ask the court for custody (the ability to make decisions for your child, for example, where the child goes to school and where the child can attend church) and to have physical placement such as overnight visits with your child. Along with these rights, the child can receive child support, be added to your health insurance, can receive your social security benefits if you become disabled or die, and can inherit from you.
Wisconsin has two ways to establish paternity: 1) voluntary paternity acknowledgment; and 2) court order.
Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgement
The easiest way to establish paternity, when you are not married, is with the Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgement form. This form can be signed if both the mother and the father are over the age of 18 and both agree that the man is the father. All hospitals in Wisconsin have this form and will notarize it at the hospital. Be aware, this form cannot be used if the child was conceived while the mother was married to another man. This form has to be filed with the State and, if it is not rescinded, there can be significant legal ramifications. We would strongly recommend that you do not sign the Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgement unless you are absolutely sure you are the father! If you are not 100% sure, you should seek legal advice before signing the Acknowledgement.
If you are named the possible father of a child and you do not agree, a court hearing will be scheduled. During this hearing, your rights and responsibilities will be explained to you. If you would like genetic testing to determine if you are the parent, this would be the time to ask for it. The child support agency pays for the genetic tests until paternity is established. You may be ordered to pay for the tests if the tests show that you are the parent. If you are not determined to be the parent, you will not be charged for the tests. You have the right to object to the test results in court although the current tests are extremely accurate so this would be difficult to do. Under Wisconsin law, the genetic test must show a 99% or greater probability of paternity in order to be presumed the father.
If the mother is married at the time the child is born, the husband is presumed to be the father. In order to overcome that presumption and adjudicate another man, there are a wide variety of legal steps and ramifications which are not easily addressed in a blog. We would encourage you to seek counsel in this situation.
If you are concerned about the paternity of your child or are listed as a possible father in a paternity action, please contact Nelson, Krueger and Millenbach, LLC, for a free consultation to discuss your case with an experienced family law attorney.