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Evidence was sufficient to show failure to assume parental responsibility

State v. L.M.O., 2017AP1814, District 1, 2/13/18 (one-judge decision; ineligible for publication); case activity

L.M.O. argues that there was insufficient evidence for the circuit court to find that he failed to assume parental responsibility for his child D.A.M. He also argues the court’s findings violated his due process rights because they were based on D.A.M.’s out-of-home placement and L.M.O.’s subsequent lack of contact with D.A.M. while a no-contact order was in effect. The court of appeals rejects his claims.

Failure to assume parental responsibility is established by proving the parent hasn’t had “a substantial parental relationship with the child.” § 48.415(6)(a). “‘[S]ubstantial parental relationship’ means the acceptance and exercise of significant responsibility for the daily supervision, education, protection and care of the child.” § 48.415(6)(b). The evidence in this case supports the finding that L.M.O. didn’t have a substantial parental relationship:

¶17     …. The circuit court acknowledged that while L.M.O. and D.A.M. had a substantial relationship at an earlier point in time, that relationship changed shortly before D.A.M. turned five years old, after L.M.O. inflicted severe abuse on the child. Medical records indicate that the incident could have been one of many, as the bruising on D.A.M.’s body was at various levels of healing. Case workers testified that L.M.O. was resistant to parenting advice and failed to get along with visitation supervisors. The record supports the court’s finding that L.M.O. again abused D.A.M. in 2016 and failed to accept responsibility for either child abuse incident. Testimony supports the circuit court’s findings that L.M.O. failed to reach out to D.A.M’s foster family, case manager, school, or doctors, all of which L.M.O. could have done notwithstanding the no-contact order. The record supports the court’s finding that L.M.O. failed to prioritize D.A.M.’s well-being, as testimony indicates that L.M.O. refused to sign therapy consent forms for D.A.M. ….

Further, D.A.M.’s out-of-home placement and the no-contact order didn’t render it impossible for him to assume parental responsibility:

¶21     The record does show that D.A.M. lived with L.M.O. for approximately two years and that L.M.O. attended regular visits with D.A.M. for a time thereafter. However, the record also shows that L.M.O.’s ultimate lack of a relationship with his son resulted from L.M.O.’s own intentional actions. D.A.M. was removed from L.M.O.’s home because L.M.O. severely abused his son by striking him with a belt numerous times. Medical records reported bruising all over D.A.M.’s body, suggesting that D.A.M. was struck multiple times. When L.M.O. eventually had unsupervised visits with D.A.M., L.M.O. again struck D.A.M., this time with his fist. The result, necessary to protect D.A.M., was the no-contact order which L.M.O. cites to excuse his lack of demonstrated interest in his son. The order barred direct contact between L.M.O. and D.A.M.; however, L.M.O. did not inquire about D.A.M.’s well-being from either the foster parents or other care providers. The fact that D.A.M. was in foster care and that L.M.O. was ordered not to contact the child did not prevent L.M.O. from behaving as a concerned parent normally would.

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