WISCONSIN SUPREME COURT DECISION CLARIFIES REQUIRMENTS IN A TERMINATION OF PARENTAL R
In a termination of parental rights proceeding, there are two seperate and distinct phases. The first phase is the grounds phase, at which time the circuit court determines whether grounds exist to terminate a parent’s rights. An example of a sufficient ground for termination of a parent’s rights is abandonment. If grounds are found to exisit and a parent is determined to be unfit, the court will move to the second phase called the dispositional hearing at which time the court will determine if it is in the best interests of the child(ren) to terminate a parent’s rights.
A Brown County circuit court was recently appealed by a parent following her no contest plea at the grounds phase because she claimed the circuit court was required to inform her that she was giving up her constitutional right to parent as a result of her no contest plea. The Wisconsin Supreme Court disagreed with the parent because the immediate consequnce of a plea of no contest at the grounds phase is that the parent will be found to be unfit. A finding that a parent is unfit does not automatically result in parental termination because there is a dispositional hearing that will follow at which time it will be determine whether it is in the best interests of the child(ren) to terminate a parent’s rights. While the Wisconsin Supreme Court did agree that a parent must be informed about the rights that could be lost in the event of termination, the court is not required to explain that a right to parent derives from the constitution.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld the decision of the circuit court and found that the parent had knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently entered into a plea of no contest to the grounds for the termination of her parental rights. Our firm routinely helps parents with the termination of their parental rights as well as the adoption of the children following the termination.