My daughter is 13 years old. I was never married to her biological father, but he is listed on the birth certificate, and she has his last name. We haven't had contact with him for eight years. Recently, I booked a vacation to Mexico with my husband and daughter. She was issued a passport. I have since learned, that in order to get in and out of the country, she needs a notarized letter of consent from her father or a court document advising I have sole custody. I have no idea where to begin looking for her father as it has been so long. I would appreciate any advice you could give me on what I can do to get sole custody of my daughter and what I can do to get her to go on this vacation.
In Wisconsin, your best bet for quick help is to petition the family court to allow the child to go, according to family law attorney Ellen Frantz of Johns, Flaherty & Collins. The process will depend on whether you have an existing judgment of paternity, but generally will include mailing a notice to the biological father’s last known address or an address provided by family members if you have contact with them.
"If you’re interested in a more long-term solution, you may have grounds for a termination of parental rights," said Frantz. "In Wisconsin, a termination may be granted on grounds of abandonment because there’s been no contact or failure to assume parental responsibility. The court would not terminate the father’s parental rights unless your husband is willing to adopt your daughter."
Termination of parental rights requires a lengthier, more involved process because it is a serious action. Wisconsin law requires you to try to serve him personally at his last known address. If he cannot be served, you may need to publish a notice in the local newspaper covering that area. If the father still does not appear or object to the action, the court will grant the termination.
Information provided by Ellen Frantz, family law attorney at Johns, Flaherty & Collins, SC. For more information about or help with family law, in La Crosse, contact us at 608-784-5678.