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Court properly exercised discretion in severing legal ties of grandmother in TPR disposition

State v. Jasmine W., 2014AP2960 & 2014AP2961, District 1, 3/18/15 (one-judge decision; ineligible for publication); case activity: 2014AP2960; 2014AP2961

The circuit court applied the proper standard of law to the relevant fact when it declined to place Jasmine’s children with their grandmother, found no substantial relationship between the children and their grandmother, and concluded that it would not cause harm to sever the legal ties between the children and their grandmother.

The state brought a CHIPS proceeding against Jasmine based on her abuse and neglect of her two children. At one point the children were placed with Celestine, Jasmine’s mother, but they were removed from that placement because she could not meet the serious medical needs of one of the children. Jasmine’s rights were eventually terminated based on continuing CHIPS and commission of felony child abuse. (¶¶2-7).

At the TPR dispositional hearing the circuit court found that despite the fact the children had been placed for a time with Celestine, there was no substantial relationship between Celestine and the children. This finding was not an erroneous exercise of discretion because the circuit court applied the factors under § 48.426(3) and its finding is supported by the record. Once the children were moved to foster care because of Celestine’s medical neglect of one of the children, Celestine failed to maintain contact with the children, and at the time of the dispositional hearing the children had been out of Celestine’s care for about three years. (¶¶13-15). As to severing the relationship between Celestine and the children, the circuit court properly concluded that would not be harmful because the foster parents were willing to maintain contact with Celestine so long as the contact was not harmful. (¶16).

The court also applied the correct factors in deciding not to place the children with Celestine.

¶19      Neither Wis. Stat. § 48.355(1) nor Wis. Stat. § 48.427, the statutes pertaining to disposition, require a circuit court to transfer custody to a relative. Wisconsin Stat. § 48.355(1), states, as relevant, that “[i]f there is no less drastic alternative for a child than transferring custody from the parent, the judge shall consider transferring custody to a relative whenever possible.” (Emphasis added.) Wisconsin Stat. § 48.427 permits the circuit court to transfer custody to a relative as one of many potential dispositions. No statute obligates a circuit court to place a child with a family member if the court finds that such placement is not in the child’s best interest. Rather, Wis. Stat. § 48.426(2) establishes the “best interests of the child” as the prevailing factor in all TPR dispositions.

¶20     The record establishes that the circuit court carefully considered all the testimony provided at the dispositional hearing and properly addressed the multiple “best interests of the child” factors provided by Wis. Stat. § 48.426(3). ….

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