When parents are unmarried, a child’s father or mother may have to take legal action to establish the father’s legal paternity. However, paternity cases often involve personal details about the lives of those involved. These matters can be sensitive, and often, parties wish to maintain their privacy. If you are involved in a Wisconsin paternity matter, you will want to know: Will my Wisconsin paternity case records be made public?
What is Paternity?
Paternity establishment refers to the process of formally creating a father’s legal parenthood. When a man is a child’s legal father, they can have their name on the child’s birth record and may be obligated to pay child support. In addition, as a legal parent, the father may also have certain custodial and placement rights.
Establishing Paternity in Wisconsin
In Wisconsin, when a man is married to the mother during a certain time frame before the birth of a child, he is presumed to be the father. Outside of this scenario, paternity is usually legally established in one of three ways:
When parents are certain of their child’s paternity, the father and mother can sign a Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment form after the birth. The form will then be sent to the state’s vital records department, and the father’s name can be added to the child’s birth certificate. However, the Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgment form cannot be used if the child was conceived or born when the mother was married to another man.
If parents marry after the birth of their child, they can sign an Acknowledgment of Marital Child form to establish paternity. Typically, the parents will both sign the document in the presence of a notary. The form will then be mailed to the state office of Vital Records. This will also allow the father’s name to be added to the birth certificate.
In Wisconsin, paternity cases can be brought by: a child, their natural mother, the child’s presumed father, a male asserting his paternity of the child, or if these individuals have died, their representatives. In addition, the child’s legal or physical custodian, their guardian ad litem, and the state can also seek a paternity determination. Under certain conditions, a suit can also be brought to rebut the presumption of paternity.
In many instances, the filing party is the child’s mother, the presumed father, or a man who believes he is the child’s father. Once the case is filed, the parties will have an opportunity to appear in court, where DNA testing can be requested. The court may also appoint a guardian ad litem for the child. If there is a trial, it will be divided into 2 parts: “the first part dealing with the determination of paternity and the 2nd part dealing with child support, legal custody, periods of physical placement, and related issues.”
Confidentiality of Wisconsin Paternity Hearing Records
Pending Paternity Proceedings
According to Wisconsin law, any “[h]earing, discovery proceeding or trial relating to paternity determination” must be closed to anyone other than those who are necessary to the proceedings. Meaning that a Wisconsin paternity hearing cannot be attended by the public or individuals who are not essential to the case.
The law also provides that any record of pending paternity proceedings must be placed in a file that is closed to public viewing. The only people who will have access to the pending paternity proceeding records will be the child’s parents, the parties to the case, and their attorneys or authorized representatives. In certain circumstances, the child’s or parent’s guardian ad litem, certain state or governmental agencies, the state child support office, and an individual representing the public interest will also have access to the records.
Past Paternity Proceedings
Although Wisconsin law restricts access to pre-adjudication paternity proceeding records unless the records are subject to an impoundment of record order, a record of a past proceeding is open to public inspection if all of the following conditions apply:
(a) Paternity was established in the proceeding.
(b) The record is filed after May 1, 2000.
(c) The record relates to a post-adjudication issue.
A requesting party must show good cause for a family court to issue a written impoundment of record order (which seals the records). If the paternity records are sealed, the records and the case evidence will only be accessible to the parties unless otherwise ordered by the court.
If you have a pending or potential Wisconsin paternity case, it’s vital that you work with an experienced Wisconsin family law attorney. Your Wisconsin family law attorney can help you understand the case process and the options you have for protecting your information.
Wisconsin Attorney and Mediator Karyn Youso of First Look Family Law is an attorney and Mediator with the experience you need to help you with your Wisconsin paternity matter. She can help you navigate the various aspects of your case and understand your options for protecting your privacy. If you have a paternity case in Metro Milwaukee/Waukesha, please contact us today and let us take a “first look” at your situation.