When children come into the world, their parents are responsible for caring for and raising them through the first few years of their lives. Since children cannot care for themselves, parents play a crucial role in making sure their children have the things they need to survive and grow as well as the guidance they need to develop into active members of society. Since the relationship between parents and children is so important, the state of Wisconsin has put family laws into place to ensure children get the care and support they need and that the relationship between parents and their children is protected.
Effect of a Father in a Child’s Life
Mothers have traditionally played the role of primary caregiver when it comes to raising children. This is due in large part to the traditional family structure in which the father works to financially support the family while the mother remains at home to care for the house and the children. Modern times have seen the “traditional” family structure changing, with more mothers being the primary financial earners for the family or, more commonly, both parents needing to work to financial support the family. With the roles of parents changing, an increased emphasis has been placed on the role fathers play.
Despite mothers typically being thought of as the most important figure in a child’s life, fathers are equally skilled and just as capable as their female counterparts. Additionally, studies have suggested that fathers play an important role in their child’s development and that children who have loving and involved fathers in their lives do better academically and have an easier time developing socially. Studies have also suggested there is a connection between a father’s involvement in his child’s life and the child’s development of language.
Voluntarily and Involuntarily Establishing Paternity in Wisconsin
In the legal sense, the word “paternity” means the establishment of a legal relationship between a male and a child. Paternity allows the child’s father to petition the court for custody and visitation rights with the child while also imposing a legal obligation on the father to support the child financially. When parents have a child during a marriage, or when the child is conceived during a couple’s marriage, the law automatically assumes that the child’s mother’s husband is the child’s legal and biological father. In this case, the parents do not need to take any additional steps to establish paternity.
However, when a couple is not married and has a child, they need to take additional steps to legally establish paternity and for the court to be able to enforce the father’s parental rights and obligations. In the state of Wisconsin, paternity can be established either voluntarily by filing a statement with the state registrar or involuntarily using a court petition. Using the voluntary process is measurably simpler than the alternative of going to court, but the situation surrounding the pregnancy, birth, and the relationship between the parents determines which method is used.
Parents can acknowledge paternity voluntarily by signing a statement which affirms that the male is the child’s legal and biological father. Once this statement has been signed, it needs to be filed with the Wisconsin State Registrar, and once the statement has been process, either parent then has the legal right to petition the court to make decisions regarding child custody, visitation, and child support. Unlike some other states, both parents also have the right to rescind their paternity statement within 60 days if they can prove signing the statement was fraud or they were under duress.
If the couple is not in agreement as to who the child’s biological father is, then either the mother or the possible father can file a petition with the court to establish paternity. This is done at the circuit court for the county in which the child lives. Once the petition has been filed, the filing party needs to serve the other party with a copy of the petition. After this petition has been served, the court sets a hearing date in order for paternity to be established. Either parent has the right to request a genetic or DNA test – if this is requested, the court orders the possible father and the child to undergo genetic testing to determine if the male in question is the child’s biological father.
Any of the following individuals has the right to petition the court to establish paternity:
- The child’s biological mother
- Any male claiming to be the child’s father
- The child him or herself
- Any individual with physical or legal custody of the child
- An agent working for the state of Wisconsin
- An individual appointed to be the child’s representative
- The child’s grandparent if either parent is a dependent.
Once a petition to establish paternity has been filed, the court has a pretrial hearing. During this hearing, either party can present the court with witnesses or produce evidence that proves or disproves paternity, which includes genetic testing. The court can then make a recommendation for the case to be dismissed or recommend that the possible father acknowledge the child’s paternity. If the possible father does acknowledge paternity after the hearing, the court also recommends a visitation schedule and a child support amount. If the parents are still not in agreement when it comes to paternity, the issue goes to trial, at which time a judge decides on the issues.
Father’s Rights to Child Custody and Visitation
When judges make child custody and child visitation determinations in the state of Wisconsin, they are guided by the “best interests of the child standard,” which outlines that decisions regarding these issues should best support the child’s growth, wellbeing, and development regardless of either parent’s wishes. Courts believe that having both parents equally involved in children’s lives is generally within their best interest unless one parent has issues that are a negative influence on children or their development. Whenever possible, judges opt for a joint custody agreement.
However, in those cases where joint custody is not an option, the judge seeks to name one parent as the primary custodial parent. This parent has the child in his or her care most of the time, and the other parent, known as the non-custodial parent, is granted visitation. When choosing a primary custodian, the mother and father are evaluated equally and are not discriminated based on gender. If the father is named the child’s primary custodian, he also has the right to seek child support from the mother.
How a Father’s Rights Lawyer Can Help
Issues such as paternity, child custody, visitation, and child support can be sensitive and emotional for parents. When these types of issues arise, fathers can often feel they are at a disadvantage and often do not understand what their rights are. This is why fathers facing family court issues should seek the legal advice of a knowledgeable father’s right attorney. These legal professionals can explain their client’s rights to them and ensure these rights are honored in court.