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“Best interests” factors support TPR of child with exceptional medical needs

State v. A.A., 2022AP311, 5/3/22. District 1 (1-judge opinion, ineligible for publication); case activity

T.W. was born at 26 weeks with a host of serious medical problems. At discharge, he needed 24-hour care. T.W. couldn’t meet those needs because she had her own challenges.  She pled “no contest” to continuing CHIPS during the grounds phase of her TPR case. When the court terminated her rights to T.W., she appealed arguing that it had weighed the evidence incorrectly.

The court of appeals held that at the disposition phase the “best interests of the child” are paramount. The court of appeals’ job is to determine whether the circuit court applied the statutory “best interests” factors to the evidence; it cannot reweigh the evidence. State v. Margaret H., 2000 WI 42,¶27, 234 Wis. 2d 606, 610 N.W.2d 475. Opinion, ¶¶18-20.

¶20 The record indicates that the trial court referenced all of these factors in its decision, as discussed above, and found that the evidence relating to each factor weighed in favor of the termination of parental rights. Indeed, A.A.’s argument is not that the court did not consider the proper factors, but rather that it should have weighed the evidence more favorably toward her.

¶21 For example, the trial court stated that it “g[a]ve a lot of weight” to the fact that T.W. had been in foster care for four years—most of his life. A.A. testified that during that time, she had attended college and started her own business, which she believes should have been afforded great weight by the trial court. However, the court pointed out that while A.A. had “improved herself according to her,” in the meantime, others had to care for T.W. In other words, A.A. had put her own needs ahead of T.W.’s needs.

¶22 The trial court further stated that T.W.’s current foster parent had the “desire to meet” all of T.W.’s special needs, which had been an issue with his previous placements, and that the likelihood of a permanent home with her would mean that he would not “languish” in foster care while continuing to wait for A.A. to involve herself in T.W.’s life and demonstrate she could care for him. This clearly indicates that the court believed T.W.’s probable adoption by his foster parent was in his best interest, the “paramount consideration” in a TPR case. See Margaret H., 234 Wis. 2d 606, ¶33.

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