Wisconsin Supreme Court
Juveniles – TPR — default judgment
The trial court erroneously exercised its discretion when it entered a default judgment finding that grounds existed to terminate parental rights after barring the parent’s attorney from offering additional evidence.
“The Evelyn C.R. court concluded that circuit courts have a duty at the fact-finding hearing to find, by clear and convincing evidence, that all of the elements of the allegations in the petition have been met before granting a default judgment against a parent. Id., ¶24. The duty to establish grounds is ‘independent’ of the circuit court’s authority to grant a default judgment. Id., ¶¶25-26.”
“In refusing to hear Attorney Lehner’s additional evidence before entering a default judgment finding that grounds existed to terminate Mable K.’s parental rights, the circuit court put the cart before the horse. The circuit court could not make a decision based on clear and convincing evidence having heard only one side’s version of the facts when the other side was requesting an opportunity to offer evidence that could defeat the allegations in the amended petitions. See Evelyn C.R., 246 Wis. 2d 1, ¶26.”
Reversed and Remanded.
Attorneys: For Appellant: Findley, Brian C., Darlington; For Respondent: Rehfeldt, Gary, Madison