Out-of-Wedlock Children: Paternity vs. Child Support
Children born out-of-wedlock are under the sole legal custody of the mother, regardless of what friends, family and others say. This is confirmed by a 2001 U.S. Supreme Court case. To have custodial rights as a father in this situation, you MUST take affirmative action beyond paying child support.
Public Policy - just because you have a child support obligation does not mean you have parental rights!All family law actions, of which paternity actions and child support are a part, are statutory in nature, and defined by each and every state outside of tangential federal law. Public Policy is that children will be provided for by their biological parents when born out-of-wedlock. Put more clearly, the state and taxpayers have a right to expect that private citizens pay for the support and maintenance of children born out-of-wedlock rather than to support these partial families from the general tax fund (whether county, state and/or federal general fund). Pay particular attention to Wis. Stat. sec. 767.521, as this is exactly where the state (public entity) develops the authority to initiate an action against a putative father concerning the issue of "support and maintenance" when an unwed mother applies for economic aid from a state agency.
Child Support (i.e., In re: the Support and Maintenance of X.X.X. (D.O.B. 1/1/14)), as distinctly different than Paternity.Most biological fathers, and father-to-be, do not understand they have minimal paternal rights if unmarried to the biological mother until specific actions are undertaken on their part. Simply, beyond the biological connection, the putative father of a child born out-of-wedlock must take affirmative actions through the appropriate governmental entities to have any legal custody and physical placement rights. In other words, children born of many unwed mothers are under the sole legal custody of the mother, and the mother can legally "rule the roost" and specifically dictate where, when and even if a putative father can have and exercise physical placement of the minor child. In addition, the unwed mother may relocate her and the minor child's (born out-of-wedlock) residence without consent of the putative father unless specific affirmative actions are undertaken by the putative father. It is critical for unwed mothers and putative fathers to realize all of this is additional to any potential action initiated by the unwed mother, and/or county to establish maintenance and support of the child. To be most basic: paternity must be established to create any legal custody rights, or rights to physical placement of the child born out-of-wedlock, for the putative father. Refer to Wis. Stat. secs. 767.501 through 767.59. Just because a support action is commenced against a putative father, and ultimately results in a child support obligation (expressed by a court support order), does not mean the individual obligated to pay child support has any parental rights. Unfortunately this is but one of the most commonly misunderstood aspects of statutorily defined family law. The primary reason is simple: child support has ABSOLUTELY nothing to do with legal custody and physical placements, as contrary as that may seem to citizens of the State of Wisconsin. From a "best interests" perspective, however, the standard by which nearly every decision in all 50 states of the union determinations concerning minor children are made has nothing to do with support and maintenance. Put more clearly, 'just because you pay' or 'have to pay' does not mean you get to 'play with your child.'
Paternity (i.e., Adjudication of Paternity & Initial Custody Determination)In the State of Wisconsin paternity is governed by a different statute than child support; specifically Wis. Stat. secs. 767.80 through 767.895. A Paternity action is one specifically undertaken to establish paternity and to make an initial custody and placement decision, resulting in an initial order regarding the same. The necessity for a putative father to initiate a paternity action, if he desires parental rights, a legal custody determination and physical placement, and desires any shared placement arrangement to potentially mitigate his child support obligations, must initiate a paternity action personally and/or through assistance of the appropriate county.