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How Can I Establish Paternity in Wisconsin?

How Can I Establish Paternity in Wisconsin?

When a child is born outside of marriage, it is often necessary to take action to name someone as the legal father. If you are involved in a situation where a child’s paternity is at issue, you may be wondering: How can I establish paternity in Wisconsin?

How to Establish Paternity in Wisconsin

There are multiple ways to establish paternity in Wisconsin. How a father is named will depend on the parties, the timing of the birth, and their circumstances.

Presumed Father

Wisconsin law provides that a man is presumed to be the natural father of a child if:

  1. He and the child’s mother are or have been married, and the child is conceived or born after marriage, and before a legal separation, annulment, or divorce is granted, or
  2. He and the child's mother were married after the birth, “but he and the child's natural mother had a relationship with one another during the period of time within which the child was conceived, and no other man has been adjudicated to be the father or presumed to be the father" under the law.

This presumption of paternity can be rebutted in a legal action through genetic test results that show that another man is not excluded as the child's father and that the statistical probability of the man's parentage is 99.0 percent or higher. This rebuttal may be effective even if the man presumed to be the father is unavailable to submit to genetic tests.

Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment

In some situations, parents will agree about paternity but need a way to establish legal fatherhood. In that circumstance, both can sign a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity (VPA) form that will be sent to the Wisconsin Vital Records department. This step permits the father's name to be added to the child's birth certificate. This option is unavailable if the child was conceived or born when the mother was married to another man.

What if I Signed the VPA in Error?

If a VPA is signed in error, the parties will have a small window during which either may request to rescind their statement as to paternity by filing with the state registrar before “the day on which a court or circuit court commissioner makes an order in an action affecting the family involving the man who signed the statement and the child who is the subject of the statement” or before 60 days after filing the VPA, whichever occurs first.

Acknowledgment of Marital Child

When unmarried parents have a child and then marry, they can also sign a form establishing paternity. In this instance, the parents would sign an Acknowledgment of Marital Child form that would be sent to the Wisconsin Vital Records department. Like the Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity form, this document would also allow the father's name to be added to the birth certificate.

Conclusive Paternity Determination Based on Genetic Test Results

Generally, when a man undergoes genetic testing, whether or not he is the child's father can usually be determined. Under the law, if genetic tests have been performed for a child, the child's mother, and the male alleged (or alleging himself) to be the child's father, the test results constitute a conclusive determination of paternity if:

  • Both the mother and father are over 18;
  • The genetic tests were required to be performed by a county child support agency by law;
  • They show that the male "is not excluded as the father and that the statistical probability of the male's parentage is 99.0 percent or higher;" and
  • No other male is the presumed father under the law.

If all of these conditions are met, the determination will become effective when the genetic test report is submitted to the state registrar.

Paternity Court Case

In some situations, it may be necessary for a concerned party to file legal action to establish paternity. In Wisconsin, paternity cases can be brought by:

  • the child,
  • the child’s natural mother,
  • the child’s presumed father,
  • a male asserting his paternity of the child,
  • a personal representative for these parties,
  • the legal or physical custodian of the child,
  • the child’s guardian, ad litem, and
  • the State

Legal action can also be taken to rebut the presumption of paternity.

Paternity suits are often brought by a child’s mother, their presumed father, or by a man who believes himself to be the child’s father. These cases are also commonly filed in connection with child support actions.

Taking a paternity matter up before a judge provides the parties with an opportunity to come to court and request genetic testing. If genetic tests are ordered and show that the alleged father is not excluded, i.e. that the statistical probability of the alleged father's parentage is 99.0 percent or higher, the alleged father will be presumed to be the child's parent.

In many cases, the court will order genetic testing in a paternity case. However, there can be circumstances when testing will not be ordered because the court has determined that adjudication is not in the child’s best interest. Under these conditions, the court would dismiss the action with respect to that male, regardless of whether genetic tests have been performed or the test results.

Is there a Statute of Limitations for a Wisconsin Paternity Case?

Yes. In Wisconsin, paternity actions must be commenced within 19 years of the child's birth or be barred.

What if there is No Birth Certificate?

If there is not a valid birth certificate indicating the child’s birth weight and the child weighed 5.5 lbs. or more at birth, the court can consider the mother’s testimony as presumptive evidence that the child was a full-term child, unless competent evidence to the contrary is presented to the court. Further, the child’s conception will be presumed to have occurred between 240 days to 300 days before birth unless competent evidence to the contrary is presented to the court.

Establishing paternity can be important for several reasons. For the father, being legally named a child's father may confer custodial and placement rights. For the mother, having a named father can help establish child support and other important issues pertaining to the child. The child can also benefit from having support and a legal relationship with their father.

If you need help with a Wisconsin paternity matter, it's essential that you consult with an experienced Wisconsin attorney who can help you assess your case and understand your options.

Contact an Experienced Wisconsin Paternity Attorney

Wisconsin Attorney and Mediator Karyn Youso of First Look Family Law is an attorney and Mediator with the experience you need to help you with your Wisconsin paternity case. If you have a paternity case in Metro Milwaukee, Waukesha, or Brookfield, please contact us today and let us take a “first look” at your situation.