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  • June 25, 2019

    Big Changes Considered in Wisconsin TPR and Adoption Law

    Your views needed: The Wisconsin Legislature is exploring reform of Wisconsin’s termination of parental rights (TPR) and adoption systems. Emily Dudak Leiter discusses the details of these potential changes, and urges section members to take the poll, linked at the end of the article, to inform the section board of your views on these critical issues.

    Emily Dudak Leiter

    There are multiple efforts underway in the Wisconsin Legislature to study and reform Wisconsin’s termination of parental rights (TPR) and adoption systems, including two bills in the Legislature and a task force on adoption.

    Two Bills

    Two pending bills – 2019 Senate Bill 232 and 2019 Assembly Bill 263 – propose a complete overhaul of our TPR and adoption statutory schemes. In particular, the bills propose:

    • eliminating TPR jury trials;

    • combining fact-finding and disposition hearings;

    • providing a method of consenting to a TPR outside of court for both birth fathers and birth mothers, and the consents would become irrevocable upon execution;

    • revising the grounds for involuntary TPRs, including adding prenatal abandonment;

    • providing serious consequences for birth fathers who fail to file a declaration of paternal interest; and

    • allowing out-of-state adoption agencies, facilitators, and individuals to charge for adoption services in Wisconsin, so long as they comply with their state’s laws, even if that means they are operating without a license.

    Exceptions are made throughout the proposed bills for Indian Child Welfare Act cases.

    New Adoption Task Force

    In May, State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) created a bipartisan task force on adoption. The Speaker’s Task Force on Adoption, chaired by Rep. Barbara Dittrich (R-Oconomowoc), is charged with addressing “the barriers facing biological and adoptive parents in the adoption process,” and will study:

    • TPRs in general;

    • ways to shorten the timeframe when finalizing TPRs and adoptions;

    • how to reduce the cost of adoption; and

    • methods to increase adoption awareness and resources.

    The task force has begun holding public hearings throughout the state. The task force has said that its work is unrelated to the two bills described above.

    Experience Generates Informed Opinions

    If you are like the attorneys on the Children and the Law Section board, you undoubtedly have strong and informed opinions about what needs to be changed in Wisconsin’s TPR and adoption systems.

    Emily Dudak Taylor Leiter Emily Dudak Leiter, formerly Emily Dudak Taylor, Tulane 2005, is a partner at The Law Center for Children & Families in Madison, where she focuses on adoption, immigration, assisted reproduction, and LGBT family formation.

    For example, as an attorney in private practice who handles private agency adoptions, I would like to see birth mothers have more autonomy and control over their adoption plan, e.g., by allowing birth mothers to consent to a TPR and adoption plan by affidavit, instead of re-traumatizing them by requiring an appearance and substantial colloquy in court (just like birth fathers may consent easily by affidavit under current law).

    From my time on the board of the Children and the Law Section, I am also coming to believe that we may need two different systems for TPRs and adoptions: one for private adoptions (i.e., through a private adoption agency or independent matches), and one for public adoptions (i.e., adoptions from foster care and after CHIPS proceedings).

    Your Views Requested: Take the Survey by July 10

    What do you think needs to be changed in Wisconsin’s TPR and adoption statutory schemes? What suggestions do you have for improving our processes? What works well in your opinion, and what works poorly? Vent to us!

    We are gathering diverse information to share with the new Task Force and Wisconsin legislators as the TPR and adoption reform bills make their way through our legislature. We want to use the unparalleled, on-the-ground experience of our section members to better this process of reform. It is important that we gain a diversity of perspective, from attorneys in rural and urban parts of the state, in private and public practice, and throughout the spectrums of race, sex, gender, sexual orientation, age, nationality, and religion.

    Please complete our poll: Thank you for your input -- please complete the survey by July 10, 2019.​​​​


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    Children & the Law Blog is published by the Children & the Law Section and the State Bar of Wisconsin; blog posts are written by section members. To contribute to this blog, contact Christie Christie and review Author Submission Guidelines. Learn more about the Children & the Law Section or become a member.

    Disclaimer: Views presented in blog posts are those of the blog post authors, not necessarily those of the Section or the State Bar of Wisconsin. Due to the rapidly changing nature of law and our reliance on information provided by outside sources, the State Bar of Wisconsin makes no warranty or guarantee concerning the accuracy or completeness of this content.

    © 2024 State Bar of Wisconsin, P.O. Box 7158, Madison, WI 53707-7158.

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