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TPR affirmed: court applied “best interests of the child” factors appropriately

State v. S.J., 2022AP160, 4/19/22, District 2 (1-judge opinion, ineligible for publication); case activity

“Sharon” pled “no contest” to being an unfit parent, and then the circuit court held that it was in “Danielle’s” best interests to terminate Sharon’s parental rights so that Danielle’s paternal aunt could adopt her. Sharon appealed that decision arguing that the circuit court failed to give sufficient consideration to 1 of the 6 “best interests of the child” factors in §48.426(3).

Sharon focused on the 3rd factor–whether she and her daughter had a substantial relationship and whether it would be harmful to sever that relationship. As noted at the tail end of the court of appeals’ opinion, Wisconsin law does not favor this type of argument:

This court declines to isolate one factor when it is the evaluation of all the factors together that are to be used in determining the best interests of the child at this phase of the proceedings. See [State v. Margaret H., 2000 WI 42, ¶36, 234 Wis. 2d 606, 610 N.W.2d 475]. Moreover, it is for the circuit court to determine the relative weight to be assigned to each factor and “exclusive focus on any one factor is inconsistent with the plain language of WIS. STAT. § 48.426(3).See id., ¶¶29, 35 (“[W]e cannot mandate the relative weight to be placed on this factor.”). Because the circuit court thoroughly considered all the factors together, this court affirms the circuit court’s order to terminate Sharon’s parental rights.

Sharon had been charged with multiple crimes. She struggled with homelessness and unemployment. Danielle, who was 8, had been living outside the parental home since she was 4. However, Sharon does maintain a relationship with Danielle, and Danielle knows that Sharon is her mom. Danielle’s aunt promised to allow that relationship to continue.

Of course, stability is important to a child’s well-being. But the circuit court allowed its personal values to infect its analysis, so no wonder Sharon appealed. Here is part of what the circuit court said:

¶11 . . . If she’s [the aunt’s] daughter, the aunt is going to be sure she goes to college. She’s going to be a role model for her and a support her [sic].

What does she have, you know, with the parents? I mean, I’m not trying to be cruel, but really like your lives are chaotic. You don’t offer her that. You don’t offer her a vision of who she can really be.

 

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