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Evidence at grounds hearing was sufficient to support termination of parental rights

Brown County DHS v. K.Y.T., 2022AP531, District 3, 9/27/22 (one-judge decision; ineligible for publication); case activity

The county petitioned to terminate K.Y.T.’s parental rights to M.Z. alleging abandonment for both a 3-month and a 6-month period and failure to assume parental responsibility.  The evidence was sufficient to support the jury’s verdict that the county proved both grounds.

In challenging verdict on the abandonment grounds, K.Y.T. (“Kane”) cites evidence that he had visited M.Z. a couple of times before being incarcerated and attempted to have contact with her while incarcerated, but his ability to do so regularly was hampered because he was moved around between various jails and prisons. Given the evidence K.Y.T. made over 3,400 phone calls from custody, only two of which were to M.Z.’s foster parents, and wrote to her only a couple of times over 18 months (despite being provided envelopes by the county), the court of appeals concludes that “[o]verall, [K.Y.T.] minimally attempted to contact [M.Z.] and had only incidental contact with her after the CHIPS dispositional order was entered.” (¶20). Thus, there was sufficient credible evidence to support the verdicts on both allegations of abandonment. (¶¶2, 4, 11-19).

Based on the same overall evidence, K.Y.T.’s challenge to the failure to assume ground fares no better. (¶¶21-23).

K.Y.T. also asserts that the trial court erroneously exercised its discretion in deciding it was in M.Z.’s best interest to terminate his rights because the court didn’t give enough weight to his testimony. (¶¶24-29). The court of appeals finds the trial court  properly exercised its discretion, as it “meticulously considered and weighed each of the factors set forth in Wis. Stat. § 48.426(3)” and “balanced the competing testimonies, giving the weight to [K.Y.T.’s] testimony that it deemed appropriate.” (¶30).

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