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How to Establish Paternity in Wisconsin


Becoming a father can be one of the most rewarding experiences life has to offer. For a child, knowing who his or her parents are and having a relationship are central to their identity growing up. However, the process isn’t always simple from a legal perspective. When the identity of the father isn’t obvious, a complex legal discourse may take place to establish legal paternity.


The Benefits of Establishing Paternity

Legal paternity ensures your child can benefit from several rights endowed to residents by the State of Wisconsin. These rights for the child include:

  • Ability to receive financial assistance from both parents until adulthood;

  • The right to receive their father’s social security, veterans’ benefits, pension and inheritance;

  • The right to tribal enrollment, if applicable;

  • Access to the father’s family health history; and

  • Enrollment in the father’s health insurance.

In addition to the child enjoying additional rights as the result of establishing legal paternity, the father also receives additional rights, including:

  • Inclusion of their name on the child’s birth certificate;

  • Having their parental rights prioritized before placing the child up for adoption; and

  • The right to ask the court system for legal custody and physical placement of the child.

The Process to Establish Paternity

In order to begin the establishment of the legal paternity process, the first step is filing a Declaration of Paternal Interest form. This form must be filed either before the birth of the child, within 14 days of the birth of the child, or within 21 days of the presumed father receiving mailed notice that the mother identified him as the father. However, it is important to remember that the completion of this form is merely the beginning of the process to establish paternity and does not, in and of itself, establish legal paternity of the child.


Four Ways to Establish Paternity in Wisconsin

In Wisconsin, there are four methods fathers can pursue to establish legal paternity; voluntary paternity acknowledgement, acknowledgement of a marital child, court ruling, or genetic test.


1.) A Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment (VPA)

This is the easiest way to establish legal paternity. A VPA takes place after the father fills out the VPA form. This form can be filled out at any time after birth, but considering the rights that are endowed upon the child after legal paternity is established, the sooner the better. When thinking about signing a VPA form, it is important to remember that the form does not create a child support order or give the father legal custody and physical placement of the child.


2.) An Acknowledgement of a Marital Child

If a child is born to a woman who’s married, then the man is assumed to be the parent of the child. This presumption also applies to same-sex couples.


If the mother and father of a child get married after they’ve had a child together, both of the parents may sign an Acknowledgement of a Marital Child, which establishes paternity.


3.) A Court Ruling

If there is denial of paternity from either the mother or the father, either presumptive parent can file a petition to establish paternity in their county’s circuit court. After filing the petition, the other presumptive parent will be served with a copy and a court hearing may be scheduled to resolve the matter. This type of hearing must take place before the child turns 19 years old.


At the hearing, the presumed father’s rights and responsibilities are made known to him. If he wishes for a genetic test to determine paternity, that is made available to him.


If the presumed father does not appear in court to determine paternity, the court may enter a default ruling naming him the father of the child.


When a paternity case goes to court, an experienced family law attorney can be a beneficial asset and advocate during a difficult process.


4.) A Genetic Test

As a result of administrative paternity legislation enacted in 2020, genetic testing may be used in Wisconsin to establish paternity. A genetic test is the most scientifically definitive method of determining paternity, and an overrule former marital presumptions of paternity or a VPA. In order for a genetic test to determine paternity, a few conditions must be met:

  • The genetic test is taken by the child, mother and presumed father;

  • The test results must show that the statistical probability of the presumed father being the child’s father must be 99% or higher;

  • The mother and father must be at least 18 years of age; and

  • There must be no other presumed father.

Consult a Lawyer

Establishing paternity can be a worrisome, confusing and difficult process. A lawyer can serve as a trustworthy ally during these hard times and assist you through the rigorous process. Contact Everson Law today to schedule a consultation with one of the experienced lawyers on our team.