With legal paternity, a father earns the right to parent and build a relationship with his child. He also has the responsibility to provide financial support until the child turns 18.

Mothers and fathers in Wisconsin who want to establish legal paternity have three options.

Voluntary paternity acknowledgment

This option is available when both parents are at least 18 years old and have no doubts about the father’s identity. Both parents must sign the state’s voluntary paternity acknowledgment form and can do so anytime after the birth. However, if either parent is unsure about who the biological father is, he or she should not sign this form. Married parents can acknowledge paternity by signing the state’s acknowledgment of marital child form.

Court hearing

When parents disagree about who the child’s father is, either the mother or possible father can request a court hearing. Both parents must attend this session, at which the court will hear the evidence and make a binding paternity ruling. The judge may also order genetic testing.

Genetic testing

To establish paternity by genetic testing, both parents must be at least 18 years old. When either parent requests a DNA test for this purpose, the county child support agency will issue a subpoena for the mother, child and presumed father to provide a genetic sample. The court will give a man paternity rights when the test shows at least a 99% probability of paternity.

After the state enters a legal paternity order, the father can ask the court for custody or visitation. This ruling also allows the child to collect benefits, such as survivor benefits or Social Security benefits, that derive from the father.