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TPR judge adequately considered bond between child and siblings

State v. L.C., 2015AP1460, District 1, 12/4/15 (one-judge decision; ineligible for publication); case activity

The circuit court properly exercised its discretion in terminating L.C.’s rights to her child T.C. because, as required by § 48.426(3)(c) and State v. Margaret H., 2000 WI 42, 26, 234 Wis. 2d 606, 610 N.W.2d 475, the court considered whether T.C. had substantial relationships with his mother and siblings and whether severing those relationships would harm T.C.

L.C. argued the circuit court erroneously exercised its discretion at disposition by failing to properly consider the bond between T.C., L.C., and T.C.’s siblings and the emotional and psychological harm that would result from severing that bond. The court of appeals disagrees:

¶11     The circuit court acknowledged T.C.’s substantial relationship with his siblings and with L.C. and considered whether guardianship instead of termination of parental rights might be a preferable alternative. The court acknowledged that L.C. had improved her ability to take care of her children and that L.C. had established a relationship with T.C. And, the court also acknowledged that there was a risk of harm if T.C.’s relationships with L.C. and his siblings were severed. However, the court found that the lengthy duration of T.C.’s separation from L.C., the majority of his life, tipped the scale in favor of terminating L.C.’s parental rights. In particular, the court found “that the stability in his current home, that the length of time in his current home, that his age from age two until age seven in that home contributes significantly” to the termination decision. In addition, the court acknowledged that T.C. could still maintain relationships with his siblings after being adopted with T.C.’s foster parents’ support and that termination of L.C.’s parental rights gave T.C. “a higher degree of stability than would guardianship.”

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¶21     …. It is plain from the record that the circuit court was greatly concerned with how severing those relationships would affect T.C. emotionally and psychologically, noting that the substantial relationships T.C. had with L.C. and many of his siblings “complicated” the analysis of what was in T.C.’s best interest. However, after weighing all of the factors—and placing great emphasis on the duration of time T.C. had been out of L.C.’s care—the circuit court concluded that termination of L.C.’s parental rights was in T.C.’s best interest. In doing so, the circuit court “examine[d] the relevant facts, applie[d] a proper standard of law, and, using a demonstrated rational process, reache[d] a conclusion that a reasonable judge could reach.” Bank Mut. [v. S.J. Boyer Constr., Inc., 2010 WI 74], 326 Wis. 2d 521, ¶20[, 785 N.W.2d 462].

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