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Wisconsin Paternity

Wisconsin Paternity & Child Support 

By Maury D. Beaulier, Esq.

Unless and until a person is established legally as the biological father of a child, he has few rights. He cannot enforce a parenting schedule, make legal decisions related to the child's upbringing.  A paternity proceeding may be brought at any time after the birth of a child.

Under Wisconsin law, there are several ways that paternity may be legally established. 

  1. Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment. Paternity is presumed if the child was born during a marriage. The husband is presumed to be the father unless and until that paternity is disproven.

    After the birth of your baby, unmarried fathers and mothers can sign a form that will make sure the father's name is put on the birth certificate and make him the legal father. The form is called the Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment.  This form can be obtained from the hospital when your baby is born. You may acquire the form at any time after the child's birth from the child support agency or register of deeds office in your county.  The form must signed before a notary public and returned to the Vital Records Office in Madison, Wisconsin.


  2. Stipulations and Order. Both the mother and father may agree to establish paternity by signing a legal agreement that is recorded with the county. The agreement will adjudicate paternity and may determine legal custody and/or physical placement and visitation schedules as well. set child support obligations.  To be binding, the agreement must also be incorporated into a Court order.

  3. Contested Paternity Proceedings. If the parents cannot reach an agreement on issues of paternity, Summons and Complaint may be drafted and served commencing a contested paternity action.  As part of this paternity process, the purported father may request genetic blood testing to determine whether or not he has been excluded as the father of the child.  Generally, the child support agency will initially pay for the genetic testing. If the testing establishes a high probability that the man is the father, the Court may order the father  to pay for a portion of the test costs.  Wisconsin Statutes Sections 767.51(3) and 767.62(4) requires that a  court to decide all issues, including custody and placement, in the final adjudication of paternity.

Paternity and Child Support.  In recent years there has been a major change in Wisconsin's Paternity statutes. In years predating 2000, child support could be made retroactive to the date of the child's birth no matter how old the child was at the time the paternity action was commenced. Currently,  Sections 767.51(4) and 767.62(4m) of Wisconsin statutes limit retroactive child support awards to the date of filing the paternity action. 

It is important to recognize the magnitude of this change. It effectively reverses the 1997 Wisconsin Court of Appeals case, In re the Paternity of Brad Michael L., where 15 years of retroactive child support were awarded despite the fact the mother had denied paternity to the child’s father. There are exceptions to this ruling.  In some circumstance child support may predate the commencement of the paternity action if there was a delay in commencing the paternity action because of threats, promises, or representations, by the father that the mother relied on or if the father evaded service to avoid the commencement of paternity proceedings

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