Recently, Wisconsin lawmakers approved a group of bills governing the adoption and termination of parental rights that could make significant changes to both areas. The eight-bill package is headed to the State Senate for approval.
Critics of the bills say that they focus mostly on ways to terminate parental rights rather than reunifying families and that they would have a disproportionately negative impact on low-income citizens. However, supporters say the bills aim to reduce how long children have to be in potentially dangerous conditions so they can be placed in foster or adoptive homes.
Here are some of the potential changes on the horizon for Wisconsin’s termination and adoption laws.
Termination of Parental Rights
When a parent cannot safely care for his or her child, the State of Wisconsin can legally intervene and remove the child from the parent’s care. The child will then be placed with a relative or in foster care.
The law requires that the State provide the child’s parents with specific services and that the parents meet certain conditions to regain custody. At the conclusion of the case, if they cannot safely care for their children, parents may relinquish their parental rights or have a trial.
At the end of the proceeding, a judge or jury will decide whether the parent’s rights should be legally terminated.
The Termination and Adoption Bills
One of the bills, AB-559, creates a new ground for legal intervention when there is a “drug-affected child.” A “drug-affected child” is a child whose mother used drugs or alcohol during her pregnancy or whose “basic needs and safety have been adversely affected by a parent’s or guardian’s chronic and severe use of alcohol or a controlled substance.”
The same bill also created a new basis for terminating parental rights if an incarcerated parent is likely to remain imprisoned during most of a minor’s childhood. The bill also does away with a parent’s right to a trial by jury during the fact-finding phase of a termination proceeding.
Currently, Wisconsin law does not provide for formal open adoption. However, AB-561 would create a process by which a proposed adoptive parent and “birth or other relatives with whom a child has a substantial relationship could enter into an agreement for post-adoption contact.”
AB-562 provides that if a child has been placed with foster parents for six months or longer, the foster parents can be made a direct party to certain legal proceedings. AB-563 allows foster parents access to more information about a foster child who is 12 years of age or older. AB-564 expands available adoption assistance payments to families adopting children with special needs.
SB-548 proposes changing statutory language concerning placing a child with a relative. Currently, Wisconsin law requires that when a child has to be removed from a parent’s care, the judge must consider transferring custody to a relative “whenever possible.” The proposed change would eliminate the requirement to place with a family member “whenever possible” and replace the language with “if it is in the best interest of the child.”
Supporters view these and the other changes in the bills as being positive and necessary to protect children from abuse and neglect and to help them achieve permanency. However, opponents contend that the changes place unfair burdens on those without means.
Family law cases can be emotional and confusing. At First Look Family Law, attorney Karyn Youso has experience assisting clients with custody cases and can help you evaluate your situation. Our office understands and can help. Call today to schedule your appointment.