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/

38 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.

  9. I have full custody and placement of my now 10yr old son. His bio dad & I divorced shortly after he turned one. He had visitation but had CPS called I him then was only able to see him at his grandparents house. He’s on his 4th OWI, one with son in the car. Got arrested during a visit with him. Didn’t see him for nearly 7 months because he didn’t want to do the recommended supervised visits. Currently has little contact with him, doesn’t attend and school or extracurricular activities for him. Occasionally pays child support only when he has a paycheck job and they auto pull it from his checks.
    My husband has been in his life since he was 3 and my son considers him Dad. He would like very much to adopt him. Do we have enough grounds for this in WI?

  10. I am divorced with one remaining minor child- the other 4 are all adults. In the last year I have had difficulty maintaining child support payments due to health issues. My ex has not had any problems supporting our daughter without my input. The child has no interest in seeing me. I call regularly but she has my number blocked on her phone, has me blocked on social media. When she does visit, she doesnt speak to anyone, except to ask about the value of things we have or to make statements that I would be “better off dead” and that she would “do it herself if she wouldn’t get in trouble”. I am supposed to see her on Friday nights and alternating weekends, but this has not been the case for almost two years. My ex refuses to get involved as she feels this is between me and my daughter, but she has no issues with bad mouthing me to the kids. (One of my sons told me this). I want to terminate my parental rights. I live in a different county as my ex, do I file in the one she lives in, which is the one we divorced in, or can I file in the county I live in? They are adjoining, so the distance is negligable.

    • Unfortunately, pursuant to these facts, terminating your parental rights is not an option unless your ex-wife remarries and her new husband wishes to adopt your daughter. This is a very unfortunate set of facts. However, just because a parent is good/bad/indifferent or a child is good/bad/indifferent does not mean that anyone gets to walk away from their parental rights and obligations. You don’t say how old your daughter is but perhaps family counseling would be in order or a Petition to Enforce your parental rights in family court may be an option. You should seek the advice of an experienced family attorney to explore all of your options. Good luck.

  11. My daughters Dad was deported to his country 6 years ago. The first year and a half he called her every now and then. He hasn’t made any contact the last four years. I can call and look for him and eventually find him but the effort has not initiated from him. I tried to get a passport for her to travel there and see him but I need his signature and approval in order to get it. I have email and mailed the documents to him to sign. He has not signed them and returned them to me. He is a good man. Unfortunately he has fallen into a severe deep depression due to his deportation and being away from his daughter. For the last three years I have tried many ways of getting her passport and terminating his rights, so I can get it on my own, is the only way I can see possible. I have dedicated my life to her and have not dated, therefore there is no step father. My intentions are for her to have the ability to see him. He will not be her father only in legal paper but he will always and for ever be her father and I will do what ever it takes to make that happen. What is your opinion on this case?

    • You should really talk to an experienced family lawyer about this. There are important facts which are not identified in your post that would determine the answers to your questions such as is he on the birth certificate, was he adjudicated, etc. From there, an attorney can then provide some answers and advice to you. It may not be a good idea, for example, to send her there without a court order. Also, you may be able to obtain a court order for a passport and bypass his signature. Good luck to you.

  12. My daughter father wants to voluntarily sign over his rights because our daughter doesn’t want to see him(she says she scared of him but doesn’t know why and he has never physically harmed her) and hes fed up trying to make the relationship work with her and wants to move on with his life. If he signed over his rights there would be a step father to step up who has been part of her life since she was a baby (she knew him before her bio dad because the bio dad been in and out the picture for years). Is a situation like this possible for his voluntarily rights to be terminated?

    • Yes, you can do this if her step-father is willing to adopt her. Otherwise, it would not be allowed. You should consult with an attorney in your area who specializes in adoption. Or, contact a social service agency in your area who handles adoptions. Good luck.

    • It is not. It is simply what the courts typical order or find in most cases because they must find that a termination is in the best interests of the child. Therefore, they typically find that not having a legal father is not in the best interests of child.

  13. My Fiancé daughter is 9 years old she has been with us since she was 18 months. Her month got her taken away when she was 4 months old and put in 3 different foster homes until her me and dad went through all the court proceedings of supervised visits random stops at our house of CPS etc, he now has primary placement of her since she was 18 months . When he got primary placement the court allowed the mother visits every Saturday from 12-4pm which half the time she didn’t show, cancelled, or cut short. She then moved 3 hours away and stopped visiting all together. I reached out to her in 2016 to see if she would sign a passport and she denied that and said she wanted to see her daughter. I told her to contact me when she was in town next and we could set something up she never did! I heard from mutual friends she was in town multiple times but never reached out this was in 2016 recently in Jan 2021 she reached out to see her it has been 5-6 years since she has seen her. after consulting with my fiancé he agreed to allow her to see her under a supervised visit which I supervised for 2 hours. I contacted our family attorney to see how to go about this and he told us to try to work it out between the parents and supervised visits would be best. But since she didn’t see her for 5-6 years we are more wanting to terminate her rights and have me adopt her I have been raising her like my own since 18 months. We think she will just see her a few times then leave again for years do we have grounds for termination?

    • Hello-

      You should consult with an adoption attorney. It definitely sounds as if you have grounds to terminate her parental rights. However, I do not believe that you will be allowed to adopt unless you are married (a step-parent). Good luck!

  14. So I have custody of my son and have since birth his bio dad abandoned me 2 days after I found out it was expecting, my son is now 7. We are originally from Michigan and loved to Wisconsin about 3 years ago. Michigan never attempted to find his bio father and when we moved Wisconsin insisted upon it. Well now after 3 years they have found him. He has never tried to contact me or anything about my child or see him. My son would not know him from Adam, so is there anything I can do in this instance? There is currently no paternity established just a set court date for child support that would lead to genetic testing

    • Your best bet is to speak to an experienced family law attorney. The only time the state can force you to pursue a paternity action is if you are receiving some kind of public assistance. In that case, the state as the right to try to recoup the aid they pay out via child support. If there is no state aid, it should be solely your choice as to whether to pursue paternity or not.

  15. my wife kids are in foster care and the kids father signed over his rights and i told my wife dont do it and now cps is trying to force my wife to sign over her rights and she told them no and they told her that they dont need her to sign that they can just termanate her rights are they allowed to do that if my wife doesnt want to give her rights up

    • Thank you for your interest in our website. We do not handle these types of cases but I can tell you that your wife is absolutely entitled to fight against a termination of her parental rights and is entitled to have a trial on that issue. She should consult with an attorney who specializes in these cases. She may even be entitled to a public defender under certain circumstances. Good luck to her.

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