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COA rejects challenge to best-interest determination in TPR

State v. S.R., 2022AP293, 294 & 295, 6/1/22, District 1 (one-judge decision; ineligible for publication); case activity

S.R. appeals the termination of her parental rights to three of her children.  A jury found her unfit on two grounds: continuing CHIPS and failure to assume parental responsibility. She doesn’t challenge these findings on appeal; she instead attacks the circuit court’s determination that terminating her parental rights was in the children’s best interest.

S.R. doesn’t argue that the circuit court failed to consider each of the six statutorily-required factors. See Wis. Stat. § 48.426(3). But she claims that its consideration of the first and sixth factors–which address the likelihood of adoption and a more stable and permanent family situation due to termination–was flawed. She complains that the potential adoptive parents of the children did not testify (though evidence of their situations and intention was introduced through other witnesses), but the court of appeals sees no error:

We reject S.R.’s arguments that ask us to conclude that the circuit court’s considerations of the factors were inadequate or ill-founded. The State responds that S.R. asks this court to elevate the consideration of statutory factors one and six. We agree that it is not this court’s role to assign the weight of the factors. See Margaret H., 234 Wis. 2d 606, ¶35. Instead, this court searches the record to “sustain the [circuit] court’s exercise of discretion.” Lofthus, 270 Wis. 2d 515, ¶21. The record reflects dramatically different accounts of S.R.’s actions and beliefs during the past four years. The court’s conclusions were drawn from its factual findings. The court’s acknowledgment that R.J.R.’s situation had ongoing struggles did not diminish the adequacy of its findings. There is ample evidence to support the court’s ultimate conclusion that the TPR was in the best interests of the children.

As for S.R.’s arguments based on the court needing to consider additional evidence in the form of testimony by the foster parents or an expert witness, we reject that such testimony is required under Wisconsin law. A foster parent has a “right to be heard at a dispositional hearing” on a TPR action. WIS. STAT. § 48.427(1m). “Any party may present evidence relevant to the issue of disposition, including expert testimony, and may make alternative dispositional recommendations to the court.” Sec. 48.427(1). Nevertheless, such testimony is not required for the circuit court to reach a reasonable conclusion. S.R. fails to develop these arguments with citation to relevant legal authorities. We decline to review issues inadequately briefed. See State v. Pettit, 171 Wis. 2d 627, 646, 492 N.W.2d 633 (Ct. App. 1992).

(¶¶23-24).

S.R. also notes that one of her children, R.J.R., faced an uncertain situation with his foster mother as to possible adoption. But, the appellate court says, the trial court appropriately weighed possible outcomes for R.J.R.:

“The decision whether to terminate a parent’s rights to a child can be one of the most wrenching and agonizing in the law.” Sheboygan Cnty. DHS v. Julie A.B., 2002 WI 95, ¶29, 255 Wis. 2d 170, 648 N.W.2d 402. Here, the record reflects that the circuit court analyzed R.J.R.’s situation in sober reality. It analyzed that a child “being helped and safe” and getting his needs met by the State would be in a better position than a child “being taken care of by a parent who is not able to do so in a safe way.” The court heard evidence that S.R. had not satisfied the conditions of return to be reunited with R.J.R. and was unlikely to do so. Further, the court heard evidence that after RJR’s concerning text message was discovered, S.R. did not want to see R.J.R. and he “would never be allowed into her house.” The record reflects that circuit court considered R.J.R.’s best interests, acknowledging that he may not be adopted immediately but that his needs would not be met by continuing to preserve SR’s parental rights.

(¶25).

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