What is Paternity?

What is Paternity?

Paternity is the process by which a male becomes recognized as a child’s father.  In other words, paternity is simply the official term for “legal parent”. Being recognized as the legal father can be established in a number of ways by a process commonly referred to as “paternity establishment”. Once paternity is established, the father is allowed to have his name included on the child’s birth record.

If you are a male and find yourself without rights to your child, establishing paternity becomes critical. Across the United States, and specifically here in Wisconsin, a baby has a right to a mother and a father, even if the child is born out of wedlock.  When a Father successfully establishes paternity, the child also acquires distinct rights.  These include child support, health insurance, inheritance rights, social security in the event that the father passes away, and several others.

In addition, the father, once he establishes paternity, also acquires rights, including but are not limited to:

  • The father’s point of view being heard in the event the child is placed for adoption
  • The right to ask for custody (decision making), and placement regarding overnights & visitations
  • The ability to submit a parenting plan to the courts for review

How is paternity established in Wisconsin?

In Wisconsin there are three ways by which a Father may establish paternity. They are 1) voluntary paternity acknowledgment, 2) court ruling, and 3) acknowledgement of marital child.

Voluntary paternity acknowledgment (VPA) is the easiest way to establish paternity. This is where the male and the female (if both over the age of 18), know that the male is the father and acknowledge the fact through a voluntary paternity form.  This form is signed at the hospital after the baby is born and finalized by mailing the form to vital records. Through this process, the father’s name is included on the birth certificate. Paternity forms are kept by all hospitals in Wisconsin and require signatures witnessed by a notary.

If the VPA is not a viable option, one can appeal to the assistance of the court.  In doing so, a paternity action would commence. Regardless of which parent requested its establishment, the paternity action explains to the father his rights and responsibilities, and allows for his right to genetic testing.  The matter then proceeds to a hearing where the court enters a ruling on paternity. If the man fails to show up for the court proceeding, a default judgment could occur.

The third alternative for establishing paternity is through an acknowledgement of marital child (AMC).  Similar to a VPA, this also requires a form. AMC is when a mother and father get married (after the birth of their child) and sign a form to establish paternity.  This form is available through the local child support agency or through the state Vital Records Office.

What are some common questions in relation to paternity?

  1. What if there is uncertainty as to who the father is? If this situation occurs, which is fairly common, then a VPA (see above) should not be signed.  Once the VPA is signed and filed it carries with it the same effect as a court judgment. This means that the man is now presumed to be the father and therefore can be ordered to pay child support.
  1. What should a man do if he believes he is the father?  Sometimes a mother will not want the father around.  If this occurs, the man will want his paternity legally established.  Doing so will grant him protected rights regarding his child, despite the mother’s desire not to have him around.
  1. Is custody of his child something a father can obtain?  In the State of Wisconsin, if a child is born out of wedlock, the mother assumes sole custody (decision making) until a court rules otherwise. This means that a father needs to petition the court for legal custody.

Whether you are a father trying to establish custody, or a mother trying to ensure your child has a legally recognized father, we can help you the legal process.  At J.G. Law, we have experience in handling cases on either side of the issue. We represent both mothers and fathers and ensure proper advocacy of your legal rights.

For any questions related to paternity, do not hesitate call us at (920) 383-1116.  We will be there for you.