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TPR — consideration of harm of severing family connection; rejection of guardianship by paternal grandmother

State v. Angie S., 2013AP1412, District 1, 9/4/13; court of appeals decision (1-judge; ineligible for publication); case activity

In a fact-intensive decision, the court of appeals rejects Angie S.’s arguments that the trial court erroneously exercised its discretion when terminating her parental rights by:  (1) failing to properly consider the effect of termination on the child’s biological family; and (2) inadequately considering whether the child’s paternal grandmother was a suitable candidate for guardianship.

First, the trial court’s decision comported with the mandate in State v. Margaret H., 2000 WI 42, ¶21, 234 Wis. 2d 606, 610 N.W.2d 475, that it evaluate the effect of legal severance on the broader relationships between a child and his or her birth family. (¶31). The trial court explicitly acknowledged the child’s substantial relationship with his grandparents, but Margaret H. holds that relationship by itself cannot mandate a finding that termination is not in the child’s best interest. (¶¶32-34). Further, the court noted the grandparents were “blind” to the “severe deficits” of the child’s parents’ ability to care for the child. (¶¶27, 32). It also properly considered the foster mother’s intent to allow the child to see the grandparents. (¶32). Thus, the trial court properly exercised its discretion.

Second, the trial court properly rejected the proposal that the child’s paternal grandmother be appointed guardian of the child based on the court’s concern about the grandmother’s ability to keep the child safe and the child’s need for permanence and security, which a guardianship of any variety would not have given. Thus, looking at all of the factors in § 48.426(3), the trial court properly determined that a guardianship was not in the child’s best interests. (¶¶35-37).

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