When Wisconsin courts consider where to place children, their foremost concern is ensuring that the best interests of the child are respected and that the child is given the best opportunity to find a home environment that is safe and supportive. While sometimes this means that a parent rehabilitates his or her relationship with a child and they are reunited, other times it means that the courts must look to foster parents or adoption for the child. While adoption is never the first choice for a court, it is sometimes necessary when a parent cannot uphold his or her responsibilities.
In a recent Wisconsin child custody case, the court considered what to do when an initial plan for adoption falls through for a child and whether to consider reopening termination proceedings for a biological parent. In the case, M.G. was removed from the home of her mother, R.G., after she was found to be suffering from dehydration and malnutrition. In October 2015, the court held a hearing to impose conditions that R.G. needed to meet for the return of her child. R.G. failed to comply with the conditions, and in September 2016, a petition to terminate her rights was filed. R.G. failed to show up for the pretrial hearing and failed to attend the final dispositional hearing.
At the dispositional hearing, the court heard testimony from various parties that M.G. was doing well with her foster family and that it was anticipated that they would try to adopt her. The court determined that it was in the best interest of M.G. that R.G.’s parental rights be terminated and that she be transferred to the custody of the state, where she could then be adopted. Unfortunately, in March 2017, M.G. was transferred out of her foster family after it was discovered that her foster mother was physically abusing her. At this time, R.G. moved to reopen her disposition hearing on the basis of the new evidence that M.G. was no longer with her foster family. The State opposed the motion, and, after a hearing, the lower court ultimately concluded that the termination of R.G.’s parental rights should stand because the termination of rights was not contingent on M.G.’s foster family adopting her, but instead it was simply in her best overall interest to be adopted.
On appeal, R.G. again sought a new disposition hearing to reconsider the termination of her parental rights. She argued that when M.G. was moved from her prior foster family back to the State, this constituted a change in circumstances and new information sufficient to reopen proceedings. In support, R.G. argued that much of her dispositional hearing had been based upon evidence that M.G. was going to be adopted by her foster family, and a change in this presumption required her rights to be reconsidered.
The Court of Appeals disagreed. It found that in considering whether to terminate R.G.’s rights, the court had generally considered whether M.G. was likely to be adopted because this was an important consideration in determining whether it was in the interest of the child to terminate parental rights. The court held that this did not mean that the lower court was relying on the expectation that M.G. would specifically be adopted by her foster family, but only that she was likely to be adopted in general. As a result, although her adoption circumstances had changed, this did not change the court’s overall conclusion that adoption was a better option for M.G. than being with R.G. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals held that there was no basis to reopen R.G.’s disposition hearing or to reevaluate the termination of her parental rights.
While the possibility of a future adoption is an important consideration in a termination proceeding, the case illustrates that an adoptive family need not be identified, or an adoption finalized, in order for termination to occur.
At Reddin & Singer, LLP, our experienced Milwaukee child custody lawyers frequently advise potential adoptive and foster parents on the prospect for success in termination of parental rights proceedings, and we also can help biological parents defend their rights. To find out more about how proceedings to terminate parental rights work, do not hesitate to contact the law offices of Reddin & Singer, LLP online or give us a call at 414-271-6400.