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Unwed Fathers Rights in Wisconsin

Updated on October 17, 2012


Paternity identifies the father of a child in both the legal and biological sense. In the state of Wisconsin, an unmarried father possesses zero rights to his child and no obligation to provide for his child unless he first establishes his legal paternity. Once he acquires paternity, he will have rights to custody, visitation, and child support.


An unwed father can prove paternity in Wisconsin by three methods. After the child is born, the mother and the father sign a Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment form to recognize paternity. If a man is named as the father but doubts his paternity, or if the father believes he is the father and the mother disagrees, the court will decide paternity of the child for the parents. Finally, if the parents marry after the birth of their child, they can sign an Acknowledgement of Martial Child form to establish paternity. This form will also places the father’s name on the child’s birth certificate.


As long as a father establishes his paternity, he possesses the same rights to his child as the mother. However, the court awards custody in the best interest of a child, not based on the rights of the parents. When deciding the best interest of a child, the court considers: the age, gender, and mental and physical health of the child; the mental and physical health of both parents; the parents’ lifestyles, such as if the parent exposes the child to secondhand smoke or if there’s a history of child abuse; the mother-child relationship, the father-child relationship, and their ability to guide their child; each parent’s ability to provide the child with his basic needs (food, shelter, clothes, medical care); the child’s routine; the child’s education; the effect of change on the child; the child’s opinion (if the child is 12 years old or older).

Child Support

An unmarried father only pays or receives child support once his paternity is established. Gender does not affect child support but custody arrangements can. If one parent has sole or physical custody, the noncustodial parent pays child support. In cases of joint physical custody, each parents’ income and time spent with the child decides which parent pays child support. The amount of child support is based on the needs of the child such as health insurance, the parents’ income and needs of the custodial parent, and the ability to pay by the noncustodial parent.


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