Placing a name on the child's birth certificate does NOT establish legal fatherhood.

There are many reasons that the biological father's name may not be correct, or even absent from, the child's birth certificate. The biological father is some cases may not even know of the birth. Even if the father's name is on the certificate, in general, only a court can formally declare that a particular male is the legal father of a child. This must be done through a formal petition to the court for genetic testing or acknowledged paternity.


A male has no custodial rights until he is legally declared the child's biological father.

In Wisconsin, until a court makes such an order, the mother is granted sole legal custody of the child. Without a paternity judgment from a court, the male will have no particular "rights" to care and custody of the child. This is true even if the parents are living together and the mother agrees that the male is the father. If the relationship ends, the mother will have the sole authority over the child until/if the male goes to court and requests a paternity judgment. Unfortunately, if too much time has passed, it may be difficult for the father to obtain substantial visitation and custody. In some extreme cases, the mother may have left the state, or even the country, with the child, making pursuit of formal paternity far more difficult.


Children's bonds develop early in life.

Social science research very clearly shows that children's bonds with parents develop most strongly in the first few years. These bonds/attachments allow the child to develop trust and confidence to engage with others and learn about their surroundings. Parents regular involvement with young children help to develop these lifelong bonds. If the majority of parenting tasks are left to one parent, both the child (and eventually the court system) are likely to view that parent as primary, and award custody and placement accordingly. It is highly recommended to establish custodial and placement rights early in the child's life to ensure the proper attachment develops.


Visitation schedules can be very difficult to change.

Most fathers and mothers establish some type of time sharing. However, these informal arrangements are dependent on the mother's agreement. If the mother wishes to end contact between the father and child, the father must then petition the court to establish his custodial and visitation rights. If the father's time was minimal before he files this petition, it is not likely that the judge would substantially increase his time right away. The judge is likely to continue the historical schedule, even if the amount of time greatly favors one parent. The schedule may be set at the first paternity hearing. But what the father may not fully understand is that initial visitation orders are almost never changed for two years. A father may wind up with severely limited time during the first vital years of the child's life. Therefore, it is important to establish clear custodial and placement rights as early as possible.


Retain a lawyer from the start.

The family court system can be very confusing. This confusion, along with the hope that parents will just work things out, often leads fathers to avoid formal establishment of their custodial rights. But waiting too long to establish those rights can several limit a father's contact with the child later. This can be a particular problem if fathers are not represented at the first paternity hearing, as written above. Children deserve two competent and involved parents. Most parents would say that their children are the most important thing in their lives. It makes sense to work with a lawyer as soon as possible to ensure that strong father-child bonds are established and maintained.