The termination of parental rights is a court remedy that is taken very seriously, and it involves significant collaboration across the judicial and administrative systems. While courts may order parental arrangements and coordinate temporary physical custody of children deemed to be in danger at home, through Children in Need of Protection or Services (CHIPS) orders, divisions of child welfare, like the Division of Milwaukee Child Protective Services, are charged with implementing these orders, arranging visitation schedules, and ensuring the continued protection of children and representation of their best interests. A recent case before the Court of Appeals of Wisconsin looks at what happens when visitation cannot be adequately implemented by child services organizations, and how this affects judicial decisions regarding termination.
In In Re Termination of Parental Rights of B.M.R., F.J.R. was mother to two children, B.M.R. and B.H.T. B.M.R. was removed from her home when she was two years old due to lack of adult supervision. F.J.R. drank heavily during her pregnancy with B.H.T., and B.H.T. was also removed from the home shortly after birth. In 2013, the court entered CHIPS orders for both children that required F.J.R. to seek treatment for mental health and substance abuse issues and also established conditions for visitation with the children. Under the CHIPS orders, B.M.R. also received mental health treatment for violent and disruptive behavior. Over time, therapists began to notice that B.M.R.’s behavior worsened significantly before and after visits with F.J.R., and it was recommended that visitation be conducted in the presence of a therapist. When B.M.R.’s behavior continued to worsen, the state of Wisconsin sought a court order to temporarily suspend visitation altogether based on B.M.R.’s best interests. The court granted the order and suspended visitation. Petitions to terminate parental rights were also filed, and trial was set for shortly thereafter. At trial, the jury held that based on a failure to assume parental responsibility and B.M.R.’s continued need for protection, the termination of parental rights was justified. F.J.R. appealed.
On appeal, F.J.R. argued that the State did not act in good faith when it suspended her visitation with B.M.R., and this affected her rights at trial. She also argued that since visitation was suspended, she was not able to show that she was able to assume parental responsibility, as required to contest the termination of her parental rights. As to the first issue, the court found that F.J.R. was conflating the courts with the administrative agencies charged with enforcing court orders, and it was not the obligation of the state to negotiate with F.J.R. in good faith about her visitation. Instead, it was the obligation of child and welfare services. Moving beyond that point, the court also found that F.J.R. had had many opportunities to engage in visitation with her children, and it was only after therapists determined that it was no longer in the best interests of B.M.R. to have visitation that visitation was suspended.
As to the second point, the court similarly held that F.J.R. had multiple opportunities and many years of visitation during which to establish that she could assume parental responsibility over her children, but she failed to do so. She failed to meet many of the requirements imposed by the CHIPS orders and had demonstrated that she was unable to maintain responsibility over her children. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals denied F.J.R.’s appeal and affirmed the lower court’s termination of parental rights.
Wisconsin courts are charged with entering CHIPS orders to guide Wisconsin’s agencies in managing the protection of children in their custody and attempting to remedy parental relationships when custody has been temporarily suspended. When parents fail to abide by the requirements of these orders and the agencies, courts can go further and oversee the termination of parental rights. If you are involved in a petition to terminate parental rights, you have the right to argue that you have not been given a fair opportunity to show your commitment to your parental duties. At Reddin & Singer, LLP, our experienced Milwaukee child custody lawyers are available to assist you in making this argument. To find out more about how to protect your parental rights during termination proceedings or seek the termination of another person’s rights, do not hesitate to contact the law offices of Reddin & Singer, LLP online or give us a call at 414-271-6400.