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Consent to termination of parental rights deemed voluntary and in the best interests of the child

Jessica G. and Joshua G. v. Alicia L., 2013AP1843, District 2, 11/27/13 (1-judge, ineligible for publication); case activity

Issue: Whether Alicia’s L’s consent to the termination of her parental rights was voluntary.

¶6 The circuit court may accept a parent’s voluntary consent to TPR only after questioning the parent and determining that the consent is voluntary and informed. Wis. Stat. § 48.41(2)(a). In making its determination, the circuit court must gather information about six factors. T.M.F., 112 Wis. 2d at 196-97 (listing factors).

After walking through Alicia L.’s testimony on 4 of the 6 factors (general comprehension, understanding of the proceedings, whether promises or threats were made, and awareness of alternatives to TPR), the court of appeals held:

¶12 . . .  On appeal, Alicia L. argues that she was coerced into consenting, but the testimony on this matter is vague. Alicia L. consented to the TPR and then, after her parents found out about it and became involved, said that she had felt pressured to proceed with the TPR. There is testimony that Alicia L. had more than one opportunity to discuss the perceived threat with her counselor, including a lengthy discussion during a recess at the November 13, 2012 hearing, after which Alicia L. proceeded with the TPR. Alicia L. testified throughout that hearing that she thought it was in Chloe D.’s best interests to terminate her parental rights and that she was freely and voluntarily giving up her parental rights. Alicia L.’s parental rights were terminated on December 21, 2012. The hearing subsequent to Bruce and Sandra L.’s motion to intervene was on June 26, 2013, and Alicia L. testified again. To the extent there is any conflict in the testimony, it was for the circuit court to determine credibility. Lellman v. Mott, 204 Wis. 2d 166, 172, 554 N.W.2d 525 (Ct. App. 1996).

Issue: Whether the termination of Alicia L’s parental rights was in the best interests of her daughter.

¶14 When deciding whether to terminate parental rights, the circuit court must make its findings on the record and explain the basis for its decision, considering the standard and factors set forth in Wis. Stat. § 48.426. Sheboygan Cnty. DHHS v. Julie A.B., 2002 WI 95, ¶¶29-30, 255 Wis. 2d 170, 648 N.W.2d 402. Ultimately, the decision whether to terminate parental rights is a matter of circuit court discretion. Id., ¶42.

¶15 . . . The circuit court discussed each of the six factors set forth in Wis. Stat. § 48.426(3), with a thorough discussion of Chloe D.’s relationship with Alicia L. and Alicia L.’s family.  [I]n particular, the circuit court noted the following. Alicia L. had testified that Chloe D. was safe and healthy with Jessica and Joshua G., with whom Chloe D. had been living for over six months. Alicia L. had failed to show up at visitations with Chloe D., and Alicia L. showed “almost no emotion” when testimony was taken about Chloe D.’s relationship with Alicia L.’s family. Alicia L. left Chloe D. with other people “when she didn’t want to parent Chloe.” By the time of the July 2013 hearing, Chloe D. had been separated from Alicia L. for one year and three months. Finally, the court noted that the current placement with Jessica and Joshua G. is stable, with “a mother and father figure in a committed relationship … well employed and financially stable.”

¶17 . . . The circuit court’s decision on Chloe D.’s best interests was well within its sound discretion.

 

 

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