At Karp & Iancu, we understand the importance of the parent-child bond. We use our legal skills to help parents establish their legal rights and fight when the state tries to take them away. Please contact one of our Milwaukee parental rights attorneys to learn more about how we can help.
Mothers & Custody
A mother has custody of her children by virtue of giving birth to them. The same is not true of the father if he is unmarried to the mother. In many situations, an unmarried mother finds herself having sole custody after the birth of her baby.
In the divorce context, a mother stands on equal footing with a father. Judges do not assume mothers should have more time with children than fathers. If you are in a custody fight, you should meet with a Milwaukee child custody attorney to build a strong case.
Fathers & Custody
If a man is married to a mother, he is assumed to be the father of the child. However, when parents aren’t married, a man needs to establish paternity before he has any parental rights—or any parental obligations, such as child support.
A man can establish paternity in several ways. For example, he and the mother can jointly sign a voluntary acknowledgement of paternity, or if they get married, they can legitimate the child by filling out a form.
When paternity is in dispute, however, a judge will hold a hearing and probably order genetic testing. We have seen paternity actions brought by men seeking to establish custody or by mothers in search of child support.
A Child’s Best Interests
This is the legal touchstone courts use when deciding most issues involving children. Once a judge establishes paternity, the court moves on to a consideration of custody and placement. A child’s needs are paramount, and Wisconsin instructs judges to consider many factors as part of its analysis.
In the past, judges assumed young children should be with their mothers. That’s not the starting assumption any longer. Instead, a judge decides what’s best for the child’s wellbeing by looking at many factors, such as:
- Each parent’s health (physical and mental)
- The child’s health and any special needs
- Each parent’s history of taking care of the child
- What each parent wants
- The child’s wishes
- Whether there has been a history of domestic violence
How Can You Terminate Parental Rights?
Because the parent-child relationship is so important, it isn’t easy to terminate parental rights. But difficult doesn’t mean impossible.
Typically, there are two ways to terminate:
- Voluntary termination, where a parent agrees to terminate their parental rights.
- Involuntary termination, where a judge must decide whether to terminate rights.
What is Voluntary Termination?
In some situations, a parent wants to give up their rights. This is different than giving up the right to custody or placement. When you terminate your parental rights, you will no longer have any sort of legal relationship to your child.
A judge must be satisfied that a parent agrees to a termination voluntarily, so there will be a hearing. A judge will usually question a parent about his or her decision.
Voluntary termination is rare. For a judge to approve it, there typically must be a stepparent waiting to adopt the child. Indeed, this is when we most commonly see voluntary termination—one parent has been raising the child and the other has largely had little contact. The custodial parent meets a new romantic partner and gets married, and the spouse wants to adopt. In this specific situation, a judge is more likely to allow a parent to terminate their parental rights to allow the adoption to go through.
Can You Voluntarily Terminate to Avoid Child Support?
No. There is a lot of confusion among the public on this issue. Some people wrongly believe that they can simply sign away their parental rights and then stop paying child support. The opposite is the case. You will still pay child support until the child graduates high school or turns 19.
What is Involuntary Termination?
This means the termination is against the will of the parent. Either the other parent or the state can seek termination in only very narrow circumstances, called “grounds.” These grounds are found in Wis. Stat. §48.415, and some of the most common are:
- Abandonment. If a parent goes a certain amount of time without contacting their child, they may have abandoned them under the law. There is no abandonment if the parent had a valid reason for not seeing the child, such as being in the hospital sick with an illness.
- Relinquishment. Parents can relinquish custody within 72 hours of birth.
- Need of protection or services. If children need to be placed outside the home for a certain amount of time, then a parent can lose their rights. For example, extreme neglect could endanger a child, who must be placed in foster care for years.
- Parental disability. A disability which is likely to continue indefinitely can lead to involuntary termination.
- Child abuse. A pattern of physical or sexual abuse that endangers the child can result in termination.
In legal terms, a court will determine whether a parent is “unfit.” Most commonly, Child Protective Services (CPS) brings the legal action to seek termination.