Wisconsin Senate passes bill to control child custody transfers

Proposed law aims to close loophole surrounding child custody to nonrelatives

The Wisconsin Senate has unanimously passed a bill to prevent people from transferring custody of a child to a non-relative without first going through government agencies, reports the Milwaukee Sentinel-Journal. The bill comes as a response to a Reuters investigation that found some children were being placed in potentially dangerous situations because parents could no longer care for them.

Children being given to strangers

Reuters reported last year on a growing problem called "re-homing." According to Reuters, some parents, mainly those who had adopted children from abroad only to regret their decision later, were advertising custody of their children on Internet forums and websites to complete strangers.

Because the exchanges were outside of state and federal law, there was little in the way of oversight to help ensure the child was being placed in a safe home. In effect, those giving up custody of the child simply had to take the prospective parents at their word that they would properly care for the child.

In one case, a Wisconsin couple gave custody of their adopted Liberian child to a couple in Illinois. Unbeknownst to the Wisconsin parents, however, it later emerged through Reuters' investigation that the Illinois couple's biological children had previously been taken away by child welfare authorities and that other children had accused the couple of sexual abuse.

Legal loophole closed

The exchanging of children online in Wisconsin arose as part of a legal loophole. Current legislation forbids advertising for informal adoptions in traditional media such as newspapers and television, but it says nothing about online advertisements, such as on forums or in emails.

Bill 581 would make such advertisements illegal and would also require parents with custody of a child to first go through the required government agencies if the child is being transferred to a nonrelative.

The bill makes it a misdemeanor to take a child in or out of the state in order to transfer custody to a nonrelative whose custody has not already been approved by the respective state's agencies. The penalty for breaking the law would be nine months in jail and a $10,000 fine.

While the bill unanimously passed both the Assembly and Senate, it is currently awaiting approval from Gov. Walker before being signed into law.

Issue highlights difficulties surrounding custody

While the proposed bill is mainly aimed at preventing adopted children from being placed in unsafe homes, it does shine a light on how contentious child custody issues can be for many people. While for most parents giving up custody of a child is unimaginable and heartbreaking, the above case shows that some parents are less keen on child custody than one would expect.

In many divorce cases, child custody is often the most emotionally charged issue that parents have to deal with. Any parent seeking custody of a child should consult with a family law lawyer who has years of experience dealing with challenging child custody issues. Such a lawyer can put his expertise to work in order to help parents come to an appropriate agreement on how custody of a child should be arranged.