Paternity means the establishment of a LEGAL FATHER for a child born to unmarried parents. It is in the best interest of the child to have paternity established, as this creates the legal relationship between a child and the father. Paternity establishment gives the child inheritance rights and access to future benefits through the father (such as social security, veteran's benefits, etc.). If you receive any public assistance for your child, the State of Wisconsin requires paternity establishment and requires you to cooperate with paternity establishment efforts. Failure to cooperate may result in your benefits being sanctioned. If you are not receiving public assistance, you can request the services of the Child Support Agency to begin paternity establishment. If a child is born outside of marriage, there is no legal father until paternity is established. To establish paternity a State of Wisconsin Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment form can be completed and filed, or paternity can be established through a court action. The man's name will not be put on the birth certificate until he becomes the LEGAL FATHER. After the child is born, the Child Support Agency will start the paternity establishment and order process. You may be required to attend a paternity interview to provide information. Next, all the legal documents will be prepared and a hearing will be scheduled. When the papers are ready, the mother and potential father(s) will receive a letter requesting that they come to the courthouse and pick up the legal documents. If the papers are not picked up, they will be served by a process server. These documents, including a copy of the summons and petition, will state the date, time, and location of hearing.
If a Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment has not been filed, an Initial appearance will be held. The hearing is in the Family Court. There are several possible outcomes of an initial appearance:
· The potential father may admit to being the father and a judgment will be entered. He is legally adjudicated as the father. Custody, placement, and name change will be addressed. There will be a further hearing scheduled to address financial issues. An appointment should be scheduled with the Paternity Specialist to attempt settlement out of court.
· The potential father may admit that he is the father subject to genetic testing. Genetic testing will be ordered for the mother, child and the potential father and a new court date will be scheduled to review the results. Genetic testing is held on the third Thursday of each month at the Washington County Child Support Agency.
· The potential father denies that he is the father. Genetic testing will be ordered for the mother, child, and potential father. Another court date is scheduled to review the results of the genetic testing. A Pre-trial hearing may be set.
· There is more than one potential father, genetic testing will be ordered.
· The potential father has been served, but does not show up for the hearing. If there is only one potential father, the Family Court Commissioner may find him to be the father (default judgment of paternity). The decision whether to enter a default judgment is made on a case-by-case basis based upon the factual circumstances. An arrest warrant may be issued.
Most hearings are held in front of the Family Court Commissioner, or her designee. The mother, the (potential) father, the Family Court Commissioner, and the Child Support Attorney will be there. The Child Support Attorney represents the State of Wisconsin, not the mother or (potential) father. Either party may hire his or her own attorney.
If any party fails to appear for any hearing, a capias (Order for Arrest) may be issued for the party who does not appear. It is always in your best interest to go to all paternity court hearings. If you do not appear at hearings, you run the risk of the case being dismissed, orders being entered without your input, or a warrant being issued for your arrest.
Once paternity is established, orders will be made regarding the child. These orders include:
· Custody: who is allowed to make major decisions about the child, such as health, education and religious concerns? There is a presumption of sole legal custody in the State of Wisconsin until paternity is established. Once established, the presumption is that joint custody is in the child's best interest.
· Primary Physical Placement: Where the child resides the majority of the time.
· Periods of Physical Placement: What used to be called “visitation”. This can be specific, with a set schedule, or left flexible.
**** If there are disagreements with Custody/Placement, the Court may order the parties into Mediation. The current charge for Mediation is $300.00. For more information on Mediation, please call (262) 335-4838. ****
· Name Change: If a Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment was NOT filed, the Court will address name change. If the parties cannot agree on last name, the court may hyphenate the name.
· Current Child Support: If the custodial parent is receiving public assistance from the State of Wisconsin, other than medical assistance or food share, a child support order will be established. If parties reside together child support can be “held open”.
· Past Child Support: Past support may be set from the date after filing of paternity papers until the day prior to the current support obligation. Past support does NOT go back to the date of birth of the child.
· Birth Expenses: A portion of the birth expenses paid by the State may be ordered to be reimbursed by the father. If private insurance paid a portion of any birth expenses, evidence of said coverage should be submitted to the Child Support Agency. Payment for birth expenses is usually set at a minimal monthly amount. Repayment of birth expenses paid by the State cannot be requested from the mother.
· Fees Incurred: If applicable, these could be the birth certificate filing fee (to add the father's name to the birth certificate/change the child's name) and service fees.
· Health Insurance: Parents should provide information regarding any private health insurance they have or can obtain through their employer.
If a Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment has been filed, a court hearing is required to address all issues, unless a complete settlement is made with the Child Support Agency. The issues include custody, placement, child support, back child support, birth expenses, fees, health insurance and tax exemption. An appointment can be scheduled with the Paternity Specialist to attempt settlement out of court.