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Evidence held sufficient to support termination of incarcerated mom’s parental rights

State v. N.H., 2021AP2035-2039, 2/22/22, District 1 (1-judge opinion, ineligible for publication); case activity

A trial court terminated N.H.’s parental rights to her 5 children. On appeal she argued that there was insufficient evidence to support findings that she was an unfit parent and that terminating her rights was in the best interest of her children. The court of appeals affirmed.

The trial court found that N.H. was an unfit parent based in part on a jury finding that her children had a continuing need for protective services. This required the State to prove “(1) that each child had been placed outside the home for a cumulative
total of six months or longer; (2) that DMCPS had made a reasonable effort to provide the services ordered by the trial court; and (3) that N.H. failed to meet the
conditions set forth in the CHIPS order for the safe return of the children. See WIS
JI—CHILDREN 324; WIS. STAT. § 48.415(2).” Opinion, ¶13.

N.H. argued that the State’s evidence of the 2nd and 3rd elements was insufficient. The court of appeals disagreed noting that N.H. was in prison, and she did not sign a release required for the prison to share information about her participation in programs, classes, and therapy that would have allowed her to meet this criterion.

N.H. also argued that DMCPS did not allow her to have visitation with her children while she was incarcerated. This was true, but N.H. had been convicted of abusing and neglecting her children, which prompted the criminal court to enter a “no-contact order–an order which had been affirmed on direct appeal. According to the court of appeals, N.H.’s failure to meet the CHIPS conditions were not DMCPS’s fault. They were self-inflicted. Opinion, ¶¶14-19.

The court of appeals also rejected N.H.’s claim of insufficient evidence to prove that she failed to assume parental responsibility per WIS. STAT. § 48.415(6). It noted that her children had not been in her care for about half of their lives. Due to her convictions for child abuse and neglect and the no-contact order she wouldn’t be having contact with them while she served her sentence. N.H. had made some efforts to contact the children’s therapists and teachers, but unfortunately she also repeatedly violated the no-contact order by contacting the children’s foster parents directly. Opinion, ¶¶22-23.

As for N.H.’s argument that the evidence was insufficient to support a finding that termination of parental rights was in her kids’ best interests, the court of appeals that the trial court referenced the “best interests of the child” factors in § 48.426(3).  It simply weighed those factors differently than N.H. wanted. Opinion, ¶¶24-25.


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