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How Paternity Can Affect Parents And Children Alike

When two unmarried people have a child together, the child’s paternity must be legally established by a paternity action. Without a judgment of paternity, a father has no legally enforceable right to see the child, and no duty to provide support for the child. After paternity is established, both parents have legally enforceable rights regarding their child, as well as a duty to provide financial support for their child.

How Parents Can Seek To Establish Paternity

Either parent can start a paternity action by filing of a summons and a petition (or simply a joint petition if both parents sign it) with the court system. The summons formally gives notice to the other parent that he or she is being sued, and that he or she has the right to file an answer, or response, to the suit. The petition states the basic facts of the case and states the legal relief requested by the person who has filed the action.

If the man alleged to be the father of the child disputes or is not sure that he is the child’s father, genetic tests can be ordered for the parties and the child. The child support agency performs genetic tests by collecting saliva from the parents and child with oral swabs; drawing blood is no longer necessary. Under some circumstances, the alleged father may be entitled to a court-appointed attorney, but only regarding the issue of whether or not he is the child’s father. If requested in a timely manner, a jury trial may be held; otherwise, a paternity trial is given to the judge. Paternity proceedings to determine who the father of a child is are confidential and not open to the public.

Paternity Often Affects Parental Rights And Other Legal Matters

Once the court decides who the child’s father is, it will enter orders regarding the child’s legal custody and physical placement. Legal custody refers to the right and responsibility to make major decisions concerning a child. Major decisions include decisions regarding consent to marry, consent to enter the military service, consent to obtain a driver’s license, authorization for nonemergency health care, and choice of school and religion. Legal custody differs from physical placement, which determines where the child resides.

In Wisconsin, parents may be awarded joint legal custody, so that they share legal custody, and neither parent’s legal custody rights are superior to the other parent’s rights. Alternatively, one parent may be awarded sole legal custody, if certain conditions are met.

Often, in a paternity action, the decision regarding the child’s legal custody is made at the first court appearance in the case. Because of this, a parent may wish to involve a family law attorney at the start of a paternity action, to avoid jeopardizing his or her rights.

Paternity Can Impact Child Custody

Physical placement refers to a child’s schedule between the parents’ homes, and it should include the child’s routine, day-to-day and week-to-week schedule, as well as holidays and vacations. A child’s physical placement schedule should be specific and detailed so that a court could enforce a parent’s placement rights in the future, if necessary. A well-drafted custody and physical placement order is essential to protect each parent’s rights and to minimize the possibility of the child being caught in the middle of conflicts between the parents.

If the parents can agree on the legal custody and physical placement of their child, in most circumstances, the court will enter an order incorporating their agreements. If the parents disagree on their child’s legal custody and physical placement, the court will enter a temporary order regarding placement, and it may refer the parents to a mediator or social service agency (often one within the court system) to help them resolve these issues. A mediator will often first try to help parents reach agreements regarding their child’s legal custody and physical placement.

If the parents do not reach an agreement through mediation, the social service agency will evaluate and investigate their proposals and life situations, and it will make recommendations to the court as to what legal custody and physical placement arrangements are in the best interest of the child. If the parents are still unable to reach an agreement, the court will schedule a hearing to take evidence, hear arguments on behalf of each parent, and make the final decisions regarding the child’s legal custody and physical placement.

Paternity May Result In Child Support Obligations

Financial issues regarding the child must also be addressed by the child’s parents and the court. These may include child support, payment of the child’s expenses, maintenance of health insurance for the child and a determination of which parent may claim the child as a tax exemption.

Wisconsin has guidelines for setting child support, which requires the consideration of a number of factors, including the parents’ respective incomes, the number of children involved, payment of the child’s expenses and the physical placement schedule, among other factors. An attorney can help you sort out how all of these factors apply to your specific factual circumstances.

We Carefully Guide Parents Through Legal Issues

Whether you are a father seeking paternal rights or you wish to establish paternity of another party, we can offer support. At Musial & Friedrich, S.C., Bonnie S. Musial, Lisa Friedrich, and Elisabeth Fletcher can assist you with your paternity issues. For a free consultation, email us or call 608-807-1044 to reach our Madison law firm.