This appeal concerns whether the circuit court erroneously exercised its discretion when it it held that the termination of Q.S.’s parental rights to his three children was in their best interests. The court of appeals held that the circuit court applied all of §48.426(3)‘s “best interests of the child” factors. Q.S. simply didn’t like how heavily the circuit court weighed unfavorable evidence.
In TPR cases, it is within the circuit court’s providence to determine where a child’s best interests lie. But the circuit court must make a record showing that it gave adequate consideration and weight to each of §48.426(3)‘s six “best interests of the child” factors. State v. Margaret H., 2000 WI 42, ¶35, 234 Wis. 2d 606, 610 N.W.2d 475. The court of appeals reviewed the circuit court’s reasoning in this case and held, based on the evidence, its exercise of discretion was appropriate.
¶19 For example, Q.S. asserts that the trial court put “great emphasis” on the domestic violence incident that precipitated the removal of N.R. and Na.S. in March 2017. However, this incident relates to several of the statutory factors. In particular, it relates to the factor regarding the age and health of the children at the time of removal as compared to the time of disposition, see WIS. STAT. § 48.426(3)(b), because the evidence indicated that being exposed to domestic violence had a significant impact on their mental and behavioral health. In fact, N.R. required inpatient care at a mental health facility. N.R. also had significant dental issues that had not been addressed by his parents. Additionally, the case manager testified that even Ne.S., who was very young at the time he was detained by DMCPS, has exhibited behavioral issues, which may be related to his exposure to cocaine prior to his birth.
¶20 Furthermore, the case manager testified that the children’s mental health and behavioral issues have improved since they were removed from their parents’ custody. She also testified, however, that Q.S. had not been involved in the children’s therapy. This evidence correlates with the statutory factor regarding whether the children are able to have a more stable home upon termination, see WIS. STAT. § 48.426(3)(f), and it indicates that would be the case here, as they have all been getting regular care for these needs since they were removed from their parents’ custody.
¶21 Q.S. also asserts that the court unfairly focused on the length of time all of the children have been in foster care. This, however, is an enumerated statutory factor that the trial court must consider. See WIS. STAT. § 48.426(3)(e). Furthermore, this time frame is also applicable to the court’s consideration of the factor regarding whether a substantial relationship exists between the children and Q.S. See § 48.426(3)(c). At the time of disposition, the children had been in foster care for over four years which, given their ages at the time they were removed, was a significant part of their lives: N.R. was seven years old at the time of removal, Na.S. was five years old, and Ne.S. was two months old. Moreover, the trial court observed that a substantial relationship involves not only love, but providing the care the children need, including their physical, psychological, and medical needs. The case worker testified that although Q.S. had made improvements in his own life during the time the children were in foster care, there had been very little improvement in the relationships he had with his children.