Terese J. Singer

Wisconsin Court Determines That Termination of Parental Rights Cannot Be Stayed

In Wisconsin, when a parent is unwilling or unfit to take care of his or her child, the parental rights of the individual may be terminated through special proceedings. The termination of parental rights is governed by statute and is taken very seriously, since it can have a huge impact on both the life of the child and the life of the parents. A recent case before the Wisconsin Court of Appeals considers the question of what to do when lower courts deviate from termination of parental rights procedures.

In the lower court case, T.A.V. was born to D.P.V. with drugs in her system. As a result of these findings, T.A.V. was separated from her parents and placed outside the home. A petition to terminate parental rights was filed approximately a year after her birth. The basis for the petition was twofold: a continuing need to protect the child from her parents and a failure by the parents to assume parental responsibility. A hearing was held on the petition, and a jury determined that it was appropriate to terminate the rights of the parents. The court ordered that it would eventually terminate the parental rights but that it was first seeking an indefinite stay to allow the father time to see if he could comply with various probation requirements, including drug rehabilitation and abstention from any further drug use. The State filed a motion for reconsideration of the stay and requested that the order be entered and enforced immediately, but the lower court denied the request. The State then appealed the trial court’s implementation of a stay.

Under Wisconsin statute 48.427(1), a court has two options to resolve a petition for termination of parental rights. First, if the court finds that the evidence does not warrant termination, the court may dismiss the petition. Second, if the court finds the evidence does warrant termination, the court may enter an order terminating the rights of one or both parents. The Court of Appeals noted that the Wisconsin legislature specifically enumerated these two options in order to limit the actions that a court may take when dealing with a petition to terminate. Indeed, previous Wisconsin court decisions have held that when a court is not statutorily authorized to take certain actions when dealing with child custody issues, it may not exceed the bounds of its authority.

Here, the court noted that the legislature had specifically intended for courts to act swiftly when dealing with outstanding child custody questions and the termination of parental rights. While waiting for parental rights to be adjudicated, children might be placed in temporary homes or in limbo without clear guidance as to where they would end up. The legislature felt that prolonged periods of uncertainty were not good for the child or the parents. Thus, it instructed courts to act definitively when dealing with parental rights petitions. In light of these requirements, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals held that the legislature clearly had not offered courts the opportunity to grant a stay when dealing with a termination of parental rights, and courts were not authorized to implement such stays. The Court of Appeals held that the stay ordered by the lower court was invalid and would be stricken.

The termination of parental rights is taken very seriously by the courts. Strict procedures and timelines must be followed in order for the parties to obtain the relief that they seek or for parents to avoid an unwarranted termination. If you are involved in a petition to terminate parental rights, it is imperative that you speak with an attorney as soon as possible. At Reddin & Singer, LLP, our experienced Milwaukee child custody lawyers are available to assist you. To find out more about how to protect your parental rights during termination proceedings or seek the termination of another person’s rights, 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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