Jessica L. G. v. Gilbert G. J., III, 2011AP3000, District 2, 5/2/12
Jessica sought termination of Gilbert’s parental rights to their child. They divorced shortly after the child was born in 1997, and Gilbert had had contact with the child only once since. Jessica remarried; her new husband wanted to adopt the child, hence the TPR petition. Conceding grounds, Gilbert opposed termination at disposition, and sought to show that the child’s relationship with his maternal grandmother and stepgrandfather would be advanced, hence in the child’s best interest, by rejecting termination. The trial court ruled this line of evidence irrelevant, and the court of appeals now affirms.
¶15 The circuit court properly exercised its discretion in excluding further testimony about Demitri’s relationship with his maternal grandparents. It considered the evidence of record and concluded that further evidence regarding the nature of Demitri’s prior relationship with his stepgrandfather was irrelevant in light of the fact that there was no evidence demonstrating that Demitri had ever had contact with his grandmother or stepgrandfather through Gilbert “in 14 years.” Without any foundation demonstrating a likelihood that Demitri would actually have contact with his grandmother and stepgrandfather through Gilbert, testimony about the nature of Demitri’s relationship with his grandmother and stepgrandfather was irrelevant to the decision regarding termination of Gilbert’s parental rights and whether termination was in Demitri’s best interest. The circuit court used a rational process to reach a reasonable conclusion.
Given its conclusion that this line of inquiry lacked foundation to support the factual proposition sought to be proven, the court leaves open the larger, legal question whether the child’s relationship with the (step)grandparents was required to be considered under § 48.426(3) and § 48.427(1), ¶12.