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Please note, this section is simply information regarding paternity and is not legal advise. For legal advice, we recommend contacting a licensed family law attorney. There are neither expressed nor implied warranties or guarantees to the accuracy of this information.
Establishing paternity is the determination of who the father of a child is. When paternity is established, the State "recognizes" a man as the father of a child. Generally, paternity establishment is followed by a hearing to set child custody, placement and child support. The following are the general steps to a paternity case (in Milwaukee County-other counties may be different):
1. Establishment of Paternity. Generally a hearing will take place to determine who the father of a child is. Parents may ask the Court to do a DNA test to determine who the father is for sure. If a man can completes a "Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity" form, the State will generally recognize the man as the father of the child in question. Please note, there are risks involved with simply completing a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity form. If the man signs this form and the child is not his, this may cause serious problems if the now legally recognized "father" learns the he is not the child's true father. Forms of this nature should only be signed when a man understands the full gravity of completing the form. You may want to consult a lawyer to fully understand all the ramifications of this form. All proceedings including the establishment of paternity are "closed" to the public. After the establishment of paternity, the records and court action are considered "open" meaning open to the public.
2. Setting of Custody, Placement and Child Support. At this same hearing, the court will most likely set legal custody, a placement schedule and child support. Generally the court will issue an order for joint custody (custody is the right to make decisions for a child) since there is a presumption that joint custody is in the best interest of a child. The court will set a temporary placement schedule (who the child stays with). In Wisconsin, generally the courts issue a temporary placement order (which becomes permanent). Is it very important to recognize the "temporary" order will ultimately become a "permanent" order. Do not be fooled, when you are told this is temporary by a GAL, the court, etc., it will be difficult to change this "temporary" order.
3. If you are not satisfied with the "temporary" order of the court commissioner, you may file for a De Novo review. Please note in Milwaukee, you only have 15 days to do a De Novo from the completion of the first hearing. Other counties are different. A De Novo review is a hearing in front of a Judge (previous hearing is in front of a court commissioner). This De Novo is like a completely new hearing (hearing all the facts again). Please note, a De Novo may work for you (more placement time with your child), against you (reduced placement time from the "temporary" order), or may result in no changes and you may simply incur more legal expense.
4. If custody or placement issues are still not resolved and one party continues to push these issue(s), eventually the court will have a trial. Approximately 1 out of every 50 cases go to trial. Most cases are resolved by extreme pressure by the GAL (a court appointed attorney who is supposed to look out for the "best interest" of a child; a GAL is simply an attorney who took a 40 hour class and makes an official recommendation to the Court on things such as custody and placement of a child), the Court or even by your own attorney to settle the case. Courts want issues resolved and generally do not want to take the time to do a trial so you will most likely be pressured to settle for less time with your child than you want. Remember, when you stipulate (or settle) to an agreement, it is very difficult to change an agreement for at least 2 years unless your ex agrees to the changes.
(The section is still under construction. Comments and corrections are welcome and help is needed to complete. If you wish to help construct this page, please let us know by email).
If you need help, contact the Wisconsin Fathers Helpline