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Adoptive stepparent may join parent in filing TPR petition

X.J. v. G.G., 2015AP1549, District 3, 10/21/15 (one-judge decision; ineligible for publication); case activity

Under § 48.42(1), an adoptive parent may join the biological parent in a petition to terminate the parental rights of the other biological parent, and because joining the petition makes the adoptive parent a party, the adoptive parent is not subject to sequestration as a witness.

X.J. and her husband, J.J., jointly petitioned to terminate G.G.’s parental rights to T.G., the son of X.J. and G.G. and the adoptive stepchild of J.J. The circuit court denied G.G.’s request to sequester J.J. during trial because he was going to testify. The court of appeals affirms, concluding that J.J. was a proper party to the termination action and thus not subject to sequestration under § 906.15(2)(a). The court rejects G.G.’s claim that J.J. couldn’t be a party to the petition because only one of the three entities named under § 48.42(1)—parent, agency, or adoptive stepparent—may file any given petition:

¶8     We reject G.G.’s interpretation as unreasonable. Wisconsin Stat. § 48.42(1) merely identifies those persons or entities that “may” file termination petitions; it does not purport to set forth any limit on the number of such petitioners. Indeed, under G.G.’s view, if the legislature had instead worded the statute in the conjunctive, it would have been requiring all potential petitioners to join in a petition, even if such petitioners did not exist. In that case, no petition could ever be filed unless there was an adoptive stepparent joining the petition. That would be absurd.

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