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COA rejects challenges to grounds and dispositional phase in TPR

Jefferson County DHS v. C.T.S., 2023AP1404, 11/2/23, District 4 (one-judge decision; ineligible for publication); case activity

C.T.S. appeals an order terminating his parental rights to his son, K.S. The court of appeals affirms, holding the county adduced sufficient evidence of the continuing CHIPS ground and acted within its discretion in weighing the dispositional factors.

As to the grounds:

The circuit court found that C.T.S. did not meet any of the above-listed conditions for return, and C.T.S. does not argue that any of those findings are clearly erroneous. See WIS. STAT. § 805.17(2) (a circuit court’s “[f]indings of fact shall not be set aside unless clearly erroneous”). C.T.S.’s primary argument appears to relate to the Department’s efforts to facilitate visits with K.S.; specifically, C.T.S. argues that the Department failed to make reasonable efforts to facilitate visits with K.S. “in light of the [COVID] limitations, the need for video visits with K.S.” and the Department’s failure “to assure productive visits.” This argument is unpersuasive. As explained above, the Department introduce evidence that the case manager and the foster parents took measures to make Zoom visits meaningful but that, despite these efforts, C.T.S. attended only 40% of all visits offered. C.T.S. contends that technical difficulties interfered with his Zoom visits. However, the case manager testified that C.T.S. never reported that technical difficulties prevented him from attending Zoom visits, and instead told her that he did not attend visits due to his work schedule or due to “being tired.” C.T.S. suggests that his case manager unreasonably prevented him from resuming in-person visits, but C.T.S. does not articulate any reason why the case manager’s prerequisite for resuming in-person visits (attending four or five Zoom visits in a row) was unreasonable.


C.T.S. argues that the circuit court erroneously exercised its discretion because it improperly weighed the best interest factors. The weighing of the factors is for the circuit court, not this court. See State v. Margaret H., 2000 WI 42, ¶29, 234 Wis. 2d 606, 610 N.W.2d 475 (this court “cannot mandate the relative weight to be placed” on any best interest factor). In any event, C.T.S. does not identify any specific factor that the court weighed improperly.

Rather, C.T.S. argues that the circuit court improperly “focus[ed] on the fact that C.T.S. did not appear at the hearing in this case and thus he forfeited his parental rights to K.S.” This argument is not supported by the record. Although C.T.S. did not appear, the court expressly declined to find that C.T.S. was in default and did not at any time say that C.T.S. had “forfeited” his parental rights. Rather, as explained above, the court addressed the statutory best interest factors, and, based on the record, determined that termination was in K.S.’s best interests. Accordingly, C.T.S. has not shown that the circuit court erroneously exercised its discretion.


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