For those that may have missed our newsletter article, I wanted to post a blog regarding a recent case, In Re Termination of Parental Rights to Guenevere T. (available at http://www.wicourts.gov/sc/opinion/DisplayDocument.pdf?content=pdf&seqNo=64253), in which the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that a father’s sporadic attempts to remain in contact with his young daughter did not prevent the termination of his parental rights. In Guenevere, both parents were actively involved in the first few months of the child’s life. Father then moved to another state, and over the next few years, saw the child only twice and spoke to her on the phone only occasionally. The parents seem to have informally agreed on some type of visitation schedule, but it was never followed. Father provided little to no financial support. The Court permitted the termination of his parental rights for failure to assume parental responsibility.
Although this case addressed only the termination of parental rights, the lessons are instructive for parents in divorce and paternity situations. The main lesson being: a parent should make serious, consistent, and quality efforts to become or maintain a part of his/her child’s life. The court in divorce/paternity matters has authority to establish placement and custody of a child, and will closely consider a parent’s effort and involvement in the child’s life. Parents who fail to assume at least a reasonable share of parenting tasks run a serious risk of having their time with the child limited by the court. Attempting to assume these tasks until after the divorce or paternity petition is before the court may be too late.
The Guenevere decision is clear about the efforts expected of parents: Know the child’s doctors, teachers, daycare providers. Know the child’s likes, dislikes, talents, fears, and struggles. To the extent possible, provide financially, but also emotionally. Be a consistent presence in the child’s life, in person, through phone calls, or even web cameras. Not all parents can spend every day with their child. But forging and maintaining a bond is of utmost importance, both for the child/parent relationship, and also for the parent who may be required to demonstrate that relationship in court.
Guenevere raises many issues that impact parents’ expectations in divorce and paternity matters. Please share your comments below.