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TPR petitioner didn’t prove that father failed to assume parental responsibility

Mary E.B. v. Cecil M., 2014AP160, District 2, 3/26/14; court  of appeals decision (1-judge; ineligible for publication), petition for review granted, 9/18/14, appeal voluntarily dismissed 12/17/14; case activity

The circuit court properly found that a mother who petitioned to terminate the father’s parental rights did not prove the father failed to assume parental responsibility, § 48.415(6). The court of appeals rejects the mother’s arguments that the circuit court applied an erroneous legal standard and that its decision is not supported by the record.

Mary argues the circuit court rejected her petition based solely on Cecil’s expression of interest in their child, Kayden, and she argues that is an erroneous application of § 48.415(6)(b). (¶10). But the court of appeals finds the circuit court also concluded that Cecil had not neglected or refused to provide care and support for the child. (¶¶7, 10, 14). Thus, Mary must show that the circuit court’s findings are insufficient as to both factors. (¶13).

As to the neglect finding, Mary had the burden to provide clear and convincing evidence that Cecil willfully and deliberately failed to provide support and care for Kayden, both during the pregnancy and after his birth, State v. Bobby G., 2007 WI 77, ¶49, 301 Wis. 2d 531, 734 N.W.2d 81. The court of appeals concludes the circuit court’s findings “are tantamount to a finding that Cecil’s failure to provide support or care was not willful or deliberate, and therefore would not meet the standard for neglect under the law, and reviewing the record most favorable to the court’s finding shows that Cecil made numerous efforts to gain information about his son, seek access to his son, and provide support and care through legal channels. Oftentimes, these efforts were blocked by Mary and others. The court’s finding was not clearly wrong.” (¶12). Because the finding Cecil did not neglect Kayden is supported by the record and that finding is legally sufficient basis to deny the petition, Mary’s challenge fails. (¶¶13).

The court also rejects Mary’s alternative argument that the record doesn’t support the circuit court’s findings generally. An appellate court grants substantial deference to the circuit court, State v. Lamont D., 2005 WI App 264, ¶10, 288 Wis. 2d 485, 709 N.W.2d 879, and views the evidence in the light most favorable to the circuit court’s findings, Tang v. C.A.R.S. Prot. Plus, Inc., 2007 WI App 134, ¶19, 301 Wis. 2d 752, 734 N.W.2d 169, and the record here supports the trial court’s findings. (¶¶14-15).

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