Termination of Parental Rights - Wisconsin Family and Juvenile Attorneys

By Carlos Gamino

A termination of parental rights ends a legal parent-child relationship.

If the state terminates your parental rights in Wisconsin, “all rights, powers, privileges, immunities, duties and obligations existing between parent and child are permanently severed.”

That means you no longer have visitation rights or custody rights. Your child no longer has a right to inherit from you, and your child may be legally placed for adoption.

Grounds for Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights

An involuntary termination of parental rights occurs when the state’s duty to protect the child overweighs a parent’s legal right to their child.

The Children’s Code of Wisconsin says that the courts and agencies responsible for child welfare retain “the authority, in appropriate cases, not to reunite a child with his or her family” if they can prove:

  • Abandonment. When a parent provides insufficient provisions for the child’s care or creates any conditions through their behavior or through the living environment, “that exposes the child to substantial risk of great bodily harm.”
  • Continuing need of protection of services. This occurs when the court feels the child needs to be placed outside of the home for his or her own safety. This often happens after child service agencies have attempted to improve conditions for the child, but it doesn’t always.  
  • Continuing parental disability. This means the parent cannot care for their child due to a disability or frequent illness.
  • Continuing denial of periods of physical placement or visitation. The courts can prevent a parent from seeing his or her child.
  • Child abuse or incest. If a parent displays threatening physical or sexual behavior, the court can remove that parent’s rights to the child.
  • Failure to assume parental responsibility. If a parent doesn’t provide for the “daily supervision, education, protection and care of the child,” the courts can determine that he or she has not assumed the appropriate responsibilities of being a parent.
  • Sexual assault pregnancies.
  • When the parent has chosen to voluntarily terminate parental rights for previous children in the past.

Hearing for Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights

In order to terminate a parent’s rights, the child’s other parent, an agency or someone else authorized under the law must file a petition for an official hearing.

Limiting petitioning rights to these three groups helps ensure the overall legitimacy of the petition because it forces anyone other than the parents to go through the appropriate government agencies before they can file. The hearing must occur within 30 days of filing.