Until a father is formally named, Wisconsin law grants sole custody of a child to the mother. The reason for this is that there is obviously no question of the identity of the child’s mother, while the father’s identity is not immediately certain. Whether a specific male’s name is placed on the child’s birth certificate, or even if no father is named, is not sufficient as a legal determination of paternity. Often, the parents simply agree on the father’s identity by filing an acknowledgment of paternity. Just the acknowledgment, however, does not grant any custody or visitation rights to the father. Neither does it specify the allocation of visitation between the parents. These issues must be specified in a formal judgment of paternity, signed by a judge.
The State of Wisconsin does not automatically begin a paternity action when a child is born. It is usually up to one, or both, parents to take that step. So, until the father files a paternity action in circuit court, he has no parental rights of custody, visitation, etc. to the child. The longer the father waits, the more difficult it can be for him to obtain more than token visitation of his child through a paternity judgment. The best course of action is to immediately insist on court involvement, and a DNA test if necessary, to establish parental rights. I will discuss important reasons for doing so in future blog posts.
It is not always easy to navigate the court system and establish paternity. I am happy to work with mothers and fathers throughout Dane, Sauk, Columbia, and Juneau counties who want to establish and clarify their parental rights.