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Termination of parental rights based on best interests of child affirmed

Dane County DHS v. C.N., 2016AP1472-1473, District 4, 9/29/16 (1-judge opinion, ineligible for publication); case activity

C.N. argued that in considering the best of her children the circuit court placed too much weight on her lengthy separation from her children and not enough weight on the progress she had made toward meeting the conditions of return. Unfortunately, the standard of review–whether the circuit court erroneously exercised its discretion–doomed her appeal.

C.N. conceded that the circuit court had grounds for termination, so this case boiled down to whether termination was in the “best interest of the child”–a six-factor test set forth in §48.426(3).  Because the circuit court identified the correct legal standard and applied it to the evidence presented at trial, its exercise of discretion was unassailable on appeal. It does not matter whether the court gave more weight to one factor than another:

¶11 C.N. argues that the circuit court placed too much weight on the duration of the separations in determining that, although the children each had relationships with C.N., neither was substantial enough for either child to view as a stable, safe parental figure. However, my review is limited to examining whether the circuit court properly considered each of the statutory factors in light of the evidence, and C.N. gives me no reason to conclude that the court did not appropriately exercise its discretion in weighing the factors. See State v. Margaret H., 2000 WI 42, ¶29, 234 Wis. 2d 606, 610 N.W.2d 475. This includes C.N.’s argument that the court erroneously exercised its discretion in failing to place sufficient weight on the progress C.N. had allegedly made toward meeting the conditions of return. The circuit court explicitly took into account C.N.’s assertions that she was making strides in her efforts to become a stable and safe parent for her children, and C.N. provides no basis for me to conclude that the court reached a conclusion that a reasonable judge could not reach in assessing credibility, weighing evidence, and exercising its discretion.

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