Termination of Parental Rights- Frequently Asked Questions

alcoholismWhile our firm does not specifically handle termination of parental rights cases, we frequently are asked questions about this area of law. Therefore, this blog is intended to provide general responses to frequently asked questions regarding what does and does not trigger this type of action in Wisconsin.

It is important to know that in nearly all cases of termination of parental rights in Wisconsin, except in very limited circumstances as discussed below, there must be an accompanying step-parent adoption.  The court does not want to leave a child without two legal parents.  The general philosophy is an indifferent or even bad parent is better than no parent. Your child has inheritance rights and rights to see extended family, even if they seemingly receive no current benefit from their parental relationship.

Here are the answers to some of the specific questions we often receive:

Refusal or failure to pay child support: Frustrated parents who are not receiving child support from the other parent for the benefit of their children will sometimes ask if they can terminate the other parent’s rights to the child. Likewise, parents who are court ordered to pay child support and wish to stop that obligation will ask if they can terminate his/her parental rights to avoid a child support obligation. The answer is no to both of these questions. Refusal or failure to pay child support is not a trigger to this type of action.  The obligation to support your children remains no matter what kind of parent is on the other side.  The court will not allow your child to go without support just because the parent is a bad parent.

Failing to see the child(ren): If one parent is not seeing the child(ren) consistently it may prompt the parent who cares full-time for the child to seek a termination of the other parent’s rights. Generally speaking, however, this cannot happen unless abandonment is proven (failure to see or communicate with the child for longer than six (6) months without good cause) AND there is an accompanying step-parent adoption.  So, the simple fact that a parent is not seeing their child may not be a trigger to this type of action.

“Bad parenting”: The same idea applies here as it does for failing to see the children. Unless there is another parent willing to step in to the child’s life so the child has two legal parents, the court is unwilling to terminate rights due to someone being a “bad parent.” Further, the court does not entertain the idea of terminating a parent’s rights simply because one parent thinks the other parent is not a good parent. If, however, the issue of “bad parenting” is a serious issue (such as the parent committed child abuse) this could be a trigger to a termination of parental rights action.

Some of the grounds that do trigger a termination of parental rights action are mentioned above (i.e. abandonment and abuse). Some other grounds are: failure to assume parental responsibility, incest, sexual assault, homicide or attempted homicide of the other parent and a parent who has a continuing disability.

Like all areas of law, each case has specific and unique facts that may not fall squarely in these general overviews. As such, we suggest that you retain an attorney to help you navigate this most serious of actions.

For additional information about this type of matter, please see our previous blog related to this topic. https://wisconsinfamilylaw.info/2012/10/02/terminating-parental-rights-in-wisconsin/

20 thoughts on “Termination of Parental Rights- Frequently Asked Questions

  1. In a chips case where the children are placed in the care of theyre grandparents whom also have foster care certifications. Is it possible for the mother sign over her parental rights to the gandparents? If so would it increase the grandparents chances of being granted the adoption? Also would there be any change to the chips order and the court process durning the chips order? In this instance the children whom have diffrent fathers lived with the mother in a seperate residence prior to the removal and there was no relationship was allowed by the mother to be established between one of the children and the father of who lived in a seperate residence.

    • Hello – I’m afraid that CHIPS cases and adoptions are not our area of expertise. We practice solely in the divorce and family law area. I believe that grandparents are allowed to adopt and in order to adopt, parental rights do need to be terminated. Beyond that, I can’t really say. I would suggest that you consult with an attorney who specializes in adoptions. He or she could better answer your questions.

  2. My brother gave up his paternal rights to his daughter. I believe he was persuaded by his ex-wife because of child support problems. Can this be reversed?

    • Our firm is not an expert in TPR and Adoption cases. We only reference it on our blog because so many people ask about it in conjunction with a family law case. Depending on the fact, my guess is that likely not but there may be some grounds if he can truly show he was threatened or coerced. He would need to meet with an attorney who is experienced in this area to see if the facts of his case would allow him to seek relief.

  3. Hi. If it is a straightforward percentage of a payers gross income why do they need information about spouse income and bills/debt?

    • It isn’t always a straight percentage – it depends on the placement schedule. Any type of shared placement requires the income of both parties. However, even if it is just a percentage, the statutes require a full Financial Disclosure Statement. Sorry.

  4. My wife and I are both agreeing to terminate my parental rights…
    Is that enough for a judge to grant our joint request??

    • No. There must be an accompanying step-parent adoption. The children deserve a legal father who will support them and, unless there is someone else willing to step into that role, it is extremely unlikely that the court will terminate a parent’s rights except under extreme circumstances.

  5. I have 3 children with my ex. 2 of the 3 want nothing to do with me at all whatsoever. The ex poisons the kids minds about me (the father) which makes the 2 oldest not want anything to do with me. My youngest is now 5. He wouldn’t know me if he saw me. My oldest wishes I was dead. My middle child refuses to visit and my youngest doesn’t even know me. Also my youngest wouldn’t come visit without big sister.All because of a bitter ex that is still mad because I left her. I have been denied custody of my oldest (before he wished death upon me) however the court agreed the ex’s parents could take him in. As he got older his mental health became more and more unstable. He became more physical and violent towards everyone at home and school.
    Anyway to make a long frustrating story short, with 2/3 kids not wanting anything to do with me and the 3rd not even knowing who the hell his dad even is, would there be any solid grounds for voluntarily terminating my parental rights? It’s been made plenty clear to me even with the courts previous orders that its doesn’t seem that it’s in the best interest of the kids to have any involvement with their father.

    • I’m sorry to hear about this situation. I wonder when you were last in court? Over the last few years, we have changed our approach to these “parental alienation” cases with the court typically ordering heavy counselling for both children and family to overcome these types of issues. It may be worth another try with a VERY experienced family attorney to assist you. After all, it is not good or healthy for the children to be in this toxic environment, as is evidenced by your son’s troubles. However, to answer your question, I seriously doubt you would have grounds to terminate your parental rights. You could certainly try to consult with an attorney to specializes in that area, however. Good luck.

  6. My childs father has never really been in tbe picture. He never established peternity but child support was put in place and he does pay that. He has not attempted to see your child in 3 years. I am now married and my husband is his dad in every way except legally,well and blood. Can my childs fathers rights be terminated if my husband adopts him?

    • You certainly can try to terminate his rights if your husband adopts your child. You would need to contact an attorney or social service agency who specializes in step-parent adoption. It seems likely unless the father objects and perhaps even then. I will tell you this, however, paternity must have been established in some fashion or there would not have been a child support order. You can’t have one without the other. Good luck.

  7. My son has a 4 year old daughter which he has not seen in 2 years . Not because he don’t want to but because the baby’s mom won’t let him . Yes he’s had a troubled past but so has the mother . In fact the mother has a drug charge has been in and out of jail etc .. neither one are perfect . So with that being said . The mother has threatened to take this further as in taking my sons rights away without him signing anything or without his knowledge. Is this possible in Wisconsin?

    • No, it is not possible. He would need to be served with actual notice. Besides, it doesn’t sound as if there would be sufficient grounds anyway. If you or your son want to see his daughter, I strongly encourage you to consult with an attorney to enforce visitation rights for him or establish grandparent visitation rights for you. Good luck!

        • That is actually not true. There are different standards which apply to a child whose parents were married v. not married. In cases where the child’s parents were not married, it is much easier to get grandparent visitation. However, even if the parents were married, visitation rights are still possible if the grandparent (or 3rd party) have a “parent-like” relationship with the child. Your best bet is to consult with an experienced family law attorney to assist you.

          • We don’t have a close relationship, my granddaughter and I , that’s because of all of this with her parents . I haven’t seen her in 2 years now . N before that I had very rare visitations with her . Really a sad situation.

  8. My son’s mother left north Carolina while she was pregnant and moved to Wisconsin before my son was born. We have not been together since and I have not had an address for her or my son in over 3 years, even though I have consistently paid child support and have many many attempts to locate her she has blocked us on all social media , basically kidnapped my son and kept him from my entire side f his family , including his brother whom I currently have full custody of and am raising on my own. So for 5 years now I have been paying support and have yet to even meet my son or hold him and hug him. I heard she got married about a year ago and I hope it works out but I still have rights as a father and I want the kids to have a relationship with each other , they deserve it. But recently she voluntarily / temporarily stopped the child support payments and when I tried to voluntarily start them back up the agency here in NC told me I couldn’t . I want to be a part of my son’s life but I don’t have enough money to fund a long court proceeding. She has kidnapped and stolen years from myself and my son and it’s criminal the way it’s happened. I know she’s his mother but I’m just as equally his father and I am a full custodial parent so she can not say I’m unfit or say I neglected or abandoned my son because I’ve paid support and sent bday gifts and Christmas and everything else but how can I visit if I have no address I had to send everything to her mom’s house so who knows if he got his stuff……she’s breaking the law and she needs to be held accountable… Please point me in the right direction…I also heard they could run an add in a far away county in the same state as me and announce that her husband wants to adopt Addison and if I don’t answer with a certain time then I lose my rights..is that true?

    • Just to clarify I have full custody of one son from a different woman , and I have been denied access even though I’ve paid support for the son with the woman who ran off and kidnapped my son who lives in Wisconsin, I’m in NC with one son who knows he has a brother, and the other son who lives in Wisconsin but has no idea he even has a family in NC, it’s just a shady situation on her part

      • If you know where she lives, you can file a case in Wisconsin. You would need to obtain a certified copy of the paternity judgment from North Carolina. We then docket that here in Wisconsin to open a case and you would file a motion here to enforce or establish placement rights. If you do not know where she is, you should hire a private investigator to find out as you cannot do anything without knowing a location. However, if you have been paying child support, the Child Support Enforcement Agency in the county in which the case is in should have an address for her as they need to know where to send her support payments. If they are unwilling to give you that information, an attorney may be able to help you by sending them a subpoena. In Wisconsin, anyway, it is a crime to conceal the whereabouts of a child from a parent but that would be difficult to pursue if you don’t know where she is or if the police can’t find her. You could also contact the police where you live and ask for some guidance from them. Perhaps they can find her as well. I don’t know what the laws are in the state of North Carolina so an attorney may be able to help you with that as well. Good luck.

We welcome your comments or questions. We will do our best to try to respond. However, please be advised that we cannot give legal advice in this forum and all communications are for general informational purposes only. Communication should not be construed as forming an attorney-client relationship. This is an open forum and any information you provide may be posted and will not be held confidentially. By posting a comment or question, you are expressly giving consent for the publication of same. If you have any specific legal issues or concerns, we always recommend that you consult with an attorney in the county and state in which you reside.

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