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Paternity - Family Law is More Than Divorce

What is Paternity? Paternity actions are brought when a child is born to parents who are not married. If the mother and/or the child are on Badgercare or other state-funded programs, the county in which they reside will often bring a paternity action against the parents to ensure that the child is being financially supported by both parents. Paternity actions can also be brought by one or both parents to work out legal custody, placement, child support, allocation of birthing costs, responsibility to provide health insurance for the child and determination of which parent may claim the child as a dependent on his or her income taxes.

What is the Difference Between Custody and Placement? Legal custody means the right and responsibility to make major decisions concerning the child, such as health care, education, religion and consent to marry, to enter the military and to obtain a driver's license. (Wis. Stats. 767.001(2) (2m)).  Wisconsin presumes joint custody in paternity actions.  (Wis. Stat. 767.41 (2) (am)). Placement is when a parent has physical placement of the child and has the right and responsibility to make routine decisions regarding the child's care. (Wis. Stat. 767.001 (5)).

What is the Process of a Paternity Action? If the alleged father contests, paternity actions require genetic testing to determine the child's biological father. The parents can acknowledge paternity by having both biological parents sign the child's birth certificate. Once paternity is determined, the parties will often be ordered to attend mediation to try to work out legal custody, a placement schedule, determine payment of variable costs for the child, decide which parent will pay for the child's health insurance and which parent will claim the child as a dependent on his or her income taxes. If the parties cannot come to an agreement on all of these issues, the Court will appoint a Guardian ad Litem to represent the best interest of the child on non-financial issues. A Guardian ad Litem is an attorney that will interview both parents, other important people in the child's life, and give a recommendation to the Court of what would be in the best interest of the child.

Who is Responsible for Birthing Costs? Once paternity of the child is established, the biological father is obligated to pay or contribute up to one-half of the actual and reasonable cost of the mother's pregnancy and the child's birth. (DCF 150.05 (2)).

Who Decides Child Support in a Paternity Action? Child support is determined based on the parties' income and the placement schedule. If a parent has placement of the child less than 92 days a year, then child support is set at a percentage of that parent's gross income. The percentages are 17% for one child, 25% for two children, 29% for three children, 31% for four children and 34% for five or more children, unless a parent has children born before the child at issue from another relationship. (DCF 150.03 (1)). If a parent has placement of the child for more than 92 day a year, the parents are considered "shared-placement parents" and child support is calculated based on the parents' gross income and percentage of placement time according to the formula in DCF 150.04 (2).

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