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One conviction doesn’t constitute a “pattern” of child abuse

K.C. v. B.S.-S., 2015AP1702, District 2, 1/13/16 (one-judge decision; ineligible for publication); case activity

B.S.-S.’s single conviction for intentionally causing harm to a child in violation of § 948.03(2)(b) does not demonstrate “a pattern of physically … abusive behavior” under § 48.415(5), so the circuit court erred in terminating B.S.-S.’s parental rights based on that conviction.

¶5     Wisconsin Stat. § 48.415 specifies a number of grounds for involuntary termination of parental rights, one of which is child abuse. Section 48.415(5). Child abuse must be proven by establishing as follows:

[T]hat the parent has exhibited a pattern of physically or sexually abusive behavior which is a substantial threat to the health of the child who is the subject of the petition and proving either of the following:

(a) That the parent has caused death or injury to a child or children resulting in a felony conviction.

Id. Thus, in addition to a felony conviction, this specific statutory ground for termination requires the showing of a pattern of abusive behavior that poses an ongoing substantial threat to the child. This court has made clear that a single conviction is not enough to establish a pattern of physically or sexually abusive behavior. Monroe Cty. v. Jennifer V., 200 Wis. 2d 678, 683-84, 548 N.W.2d 837 (Ct. App. 1996).

¶6    Here the circuit court relied exclusively on B.S.-S.’s conviction for child abuse to find him unfit. The court never addressed whether B.S.-S. exhibited a pattern of physically or sexually abusive behavior as required by the statute. The record is likewise devoid of facts demonstrating such a pattern, or that the pattern posed a substantial threat to X.S.-S.’s health. Therefore, we agree that the statutory basis purportedly relied on here was not satisfied as a matter of law. ….

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