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CHIPS orders satisfied statutory notice requirements

State v. M.K., 2015AP2098, District 1, 4/19/16 (one-judge decision; ineligible for publication); case activity

While the second (and final) extension of M.K.’s original CHIPS dispositional order listed only one of the three conditions M.K. had to meet for return of her son, the original order and first extension listed all three, and that’s good enough in the eyes of the court of appeals to satisfy the requirements of § 48.356(2).

M.K. argued that the final extension of the dispositional order in her CHIPS case did not comply with the requisite statutory notice requirements as interpreted by Waukesha County v. Steven H., 2000 WI 28, 233 Wis. 2d 344, 607 N.W.2d 607. Steven H. held that §§ 48.356(2) and 48.415(2)(a)1. require the last order placing a child outside the home to contain the written notice prescribed by § 48.356(2) because that “ensures that a parent receives the written notice required by § 48.356(2) in a timely manner and does not vitiate a termination of parental rights proceeding when one or more previous orders fails to contain the statutorily prescribed written notice.” Id., ¶3.

The court of appeals disagrees. It discards Steven H.‘s explicit last-order rule in favor of the “purpose of the notice requirements” (¶21), which is to ensure the parent has notice of the conditions he or she must meet before the child may return to the home:

¶22     Here, M.K. had sufficient notice of the conditions necessary for her child’s return. Both the original CHIPS dispositional order and the first extension order contained the complete set of conditions. The [final] September 2013 order, though incomplete, specifically incorporated the conditions by stating that “[a]ll conditions of the dispositional order/consent decree remain in effect[.]” Moreover, M.K. does not argue that she was not aware of the conditions, nor does she indicate that she was confused by the incomplete September 2013 extension order. Indeed, at trial, M.K. acknowledged all of the conditions necessary for her son’s return and indicated that she understood them all. The circuit court appropriately found that M.K. had proper notice of the conditions of her child’s return.

The court also rejects M.K.’s argument that the circuit court erred in answering the first special verdict question, which asked if the child had been placed outside the home for more than six months pursuant to one or more orders containing the required TPR notice. It was undisputed that the child had been placed outside of his home since May 2011, so by the time the trial started, in April 2015, the child had been out of the home for almost four years. Accordingly, there was clear and convincing evidence, provided both by documentation and testimony, that the child had been placed outside of his home for a total of six months or longer pursuant to one or more court orders. (¶25).

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