Terese J. Singer

Wisconsin Court Approves Termination of Parental Rights

The termination of parental rights in Wisconsin is a very serious issue. Courts do not take requests for the termination of rights lightly, since any outcome can have grave consequences for all of the parties involved. In evaluating a petition for the termination of parental rights, courts will look primarily at whether termination is in the best interest of the child, and which circumstances will best ensure the child’s future success and happiness. As illustrated in the case below, in some circumstances, this can mean terminating the rights of biological parents in order to allow a child to be adopted by foster parents or other individuals.

State of Wisconsin v. J.L.C. arose out of concerns over the lack of relationship that a child, K.C., had with each of his parents. K.C. was removed from his mother only four days after his birth because she had failed to complete necessary progress in an ongoing child abuse and neglect case. Out of concern that K.C. was at risk of harm, he was placed with a foster family. At this time, K.C.’s father, J.L.C, had not been determined to be the actual father. Several months later, J.L.C. was identified as the biological father. A court held that K.C. should remain in foster care but gave J.L.C. the opportunity to obtain custody over his son by meeting behavior change requirements, demonstrating regular visits with K.C., and showing that he could provide a safe environment for K.C. Several months after this order was put in place, J.L.C. unexpectedly moved to Arizona. After that, he saw K.C. only when he returned for court appearances.

One year later, the State of Wisconsin moved to terminate J.L.C.’s parental rights because he had failed to comply with the court orders for regaining custody . J.L.C. attended a hearing on the matter and pled no contest. At the hearing, several individuals from the State testified that J.L.C. rarely visited K.C., that he had not completed all of his court-ordered conditions, and that he had made little effort to establish a relationship with K.C. They also testified that K.C. had formed a very close relationship with his foster family and viewed them as his actual family. At the termination hearing, J.L.C. also proposed that his mother, K.C.’s paternal grandmother, be appointed as K.C.’s guardian. In response, State employees noted that K.C.’s grandmother had visited him only five times since K.C. was born and that she was 73, which raised concerns about whether she would be able to parent K.C. as a teenager. Ultimately, after evaluating all of the factors, the court decided that it was in K.C.’s best interest to terminate J.L.C.’s parental rights. J.L.C. appealed.

On appeal, J.L.C. argued that his parental rights were improperly terminated because the court did not correctly evaluate all of the relevant factors, and his mother should have been appointed as K.C.’s guardian. As to the first argument, the Court of Appeals noted that, under Wisconsin law, courts are required to consider the likelihood that a child will be adopted after termination, the age and health of the child, the wishes of the child, whether the child has had substantial relationships with family members, and whether the child will enter a better home after the termination. Here, the trial court found that K.C. had a loving and stable foster family who wanted to adopt him, was young enough to still assimilate well into a foster family, and did not have substantial relationships with his biological family members. In light of this evaluation, the court of appeals upheld the lower court’s determination of termination.

Likewise, the court of appeals also confirmed the lower court’s decision not to move K.C. to his grandmother’s custody. For similar reasons, the court noted that K.C.’s grandmother was unlikely to be able to take care of him as he grew to be a teenager because she would be in her 80s by that time. Additionally, the court worried that he would suffer significant trauma if forced to leave his foster care family for a biological relative with whom he had spent little time. In light of these factors, the court of appeals determined that the trial court exercised proper discretion in keeping K.C. with his foster family. At Reddin & Singer, LLP, our experienced Milwaukee child custody lawyers can help you evaluate whether the termination of parental rights may be an appropriate solution to your custody matters and, if so, how to proceed. To find out more about how to effectively advocate for the termination of parental rights when it is in your child’s best interest, do not hesitate to contact the law offices of Reddin & Singer, LLP online or give us a call at 414-271-6400.

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