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COA: TPR court properly concluded no “substantial relationship” in disposition

State v. K.A.B., 2020AP962, 9/1/20, District 1 (one-judge decision; ineligible for publication); case activity

K.A.B. appeals the termination of her parental rights to her daughter, L.B. L.B. had been with a foster family since birth, and the court found that both the continuing CHIPS and failure to assume grounds were proved.

On disposition, the court heard testimony about K.A.B.’s interactions with L.B., as well as those of K.A.B.’s mother, R.R.B. The court noted that L.B. was “a meaningful part” of both women’s lives, but ultimately found they did not have a “substantial relationship” with the child, one of the statutory disposition factors. Wis. Stat. § 48.426(3)(c).

K.A.B. argues this finding was in error, but the court of appeals will not disturb the trial court’s factual finding:

K.A.B. asserts that the trial court ignored evidence that K.A.B. and R.B.B. had “significant contact” with L.B. However, having “significant contact” with a child is not the same as having a substantial relationship. Indeed, the court discussed the “strong relationship and bond” that L.B. has with her foster family, and contrasted that with K.A.B.’s and R.B.B.’s lack of consistent visitation, as well as the problems that occurred when there were visits. K.A.B. contends that evidence of other possible reasons for L.B.’s behavior during these visits should have given greater weight by the trial court. However, “[w]hen the [trial] court acts as the finder of fact, it is the ultimate arbiter of the credibility of the witnesses and the weight to be given to each witness’s testimony,” and even if more than one reasonable inference could be drawn from credible evidence, “the reviewing courtmust accept the inference drawn by the trier of fact.” State v. Peppertree Resort Villas, Inc., 2002 WI App 207, ¶19, 257 Wis. 2d 421, 651 N.W.2d 345.


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