Issues (composed by On Point):
Whether the trial court was clearly wrong in finding that Cecil had not failed to assume parental responsibility for his infant son?
Whether a parent’s expression of interest in his child equates to having a “substantial relationship” with the child?
Because the record for a TPR appeal is confidential, we do not have access to the briefs or petition for review. That makes it hard to know how Mary pitched this case to SCOW. The court of appeals confirmed that Mary petitioned to terminate Cecil’s parental rights to their infant son on the grounds that he failed to “assume parental responsibility” in that he did not have a “substantial relationship” with the child. See Wis. Stat. §48.415(6)(a)&(b).
The problem seems to be that Mary presented quite a bit of evidence that Cecil neglected his parental responsibilities (he could have, but did not, support her during pregnancy and after birth; she lived in a homeless shelter), and Cecil presented a good deal of evidence to the contrary (Mary never asked for food or money while living in the shelter; he tried to get information about and see his son, but Mary blocked him; he bought clothes, bed and a car seat for his son and saved money to support him). The circuit court sided with Cecil and dismissed Mary’s petition. According to the court of appeals, Mary claimed that the circuit court applied an erroneous legal standard: whether a parent may prove a “substantial relationship” based solely on his expression of interest in the child. Presumably that’s why SCOW took this case, though the court of appeals insists that Mary mischaracterizes the legal standard that the circuit court actually used, and she ignores the evidence that supported the circuit court’s decision. See our post regarding the court of appeals decision.