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COA holds father failed to assume parental responsibility

Adoptions of Wisconsin, Inc. v. N.R.K., 2019AP1726, 12/27/19, District 3 (one-judge decision; ineligible for publication); case activity

Here the court of appeals upholds the termination of a biological father’s parental rights, concluding that he failed to assume parental responsibility. The infant’s birth mother (“Kristin”) had agreed to voluntary termination of her own rights but had not revealed the father’s (“Noah”)’s last name, though it later became clear she knew it. After the required notice of the proceedings had been published in places where the father might be, the court terminated the rights of any unknown biological fathers. The father learned his rights had been terminated when he was seeking a determination of paternity.

The court “reopened” the TPR proceedings and delayed the child’s adoption. Ultimately Adoptions of Wisconsin filed an amended TPR petition alleging abandonment and failure to assume as grounds. The court noted that even though the father’s rights had been terminated, this was not a good reason for his failure to assume responsibility–particularly because he did not know they had been terminated. But, the court went on, even considering the father’s actions only after the filing of the second TPR petition, he failed to assume responsibility:

[e]ven if the Court does only consider [Noah]’s actions after [this case was reopened on] September 21, 2018, [Noah] has failed to show that he has assumed parental responsibility over [Natalie]. While [Noah] has asserted his rights to [Natalie,] he has made no effort to communicate with her or her caregivers. He has not inquired about her daily care or possible needs. He has provided no support since he broke up with [Kristin]. As the GAL stated in his recommendations, [Noah]’s efforts have been “limited at best.”

(¶11). The court ultimately terminated Noah’s rights.

On appeal he argues that the circuit court erred because it failed to account for the fact that he’d “acted ‘with reasonable diligence’ in locating Natalie after her birth so that he could become involved in her life,” and that the mother had interfered with his attempts. Relying on the standard of review, the court of appeals says that Noah hasn’t identified any facts erroneously found by the trial court, and that the facts as found are sufficient to uphold termination. (¶¶19-20). Because of this conclusion, the court declines to decide AOW’s cross-appeal arguing that the court erred in reopening the proceedings and in finding the abandonment ground unsatisfied. (¶20).

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