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In the Interest of J.H.

December 12, 2012

IN THE INTEREST OF J.H., MINOR CHILD-APPELLANT, T.H., INTERVENOR, APPELLANT.


Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Marshall County, Stephen A. Owen, District Associate Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Doyle, P.J.

A step-father appeals a juvenile court ruling denying his motion to intervene in pending child-in-need-of-assistance proceedings. AFFIRMED.

Considered by Doyle, P.J., and Mullins and Bower, JJ.

A stepfather appeals a juvenile court ruling denying his motion to intervene in pending child-in-need-of-assistance proceedings. We affirm.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

The child at issue in this case was born in 2002. His biological father died when the child was very young. In 2006, the child's mother married T.H., who is, by way of the marriage, the child's stepfather.*fn1 Two children were born of this marriage. Though the stepfather is the only father the child has ever known, the child considers the stepfather to be his father, and the child and stepfather share a close bond, a formal adoption by the stepfather has never been effectuated.

The mother has a history of mental health and related anger-management issues. The parents have had a rocky relationship, plagued with unpleasant arguments, to say the least. Additionally, the mother's relationship with the child has been quite difficult for many years and has been characterized by arguments and physical aggression. The difficulties between the mother and the child have contributed to, and sometimes exacerbated, the conflicts between the parents.

In 2011, the stepfather filed a petition for dissolution of marriage. The parents reached an agreement early on to place all of the children in the stepfather's temporary care with the mother receiving visitation.*fn2 After a short reconciliation, the parents again separated in April 2012 after another domestic incident. The stepfather commenced a domestic abuse action against the mother, resulting in a no-contact order between the parents. The half-siblings remained with the stepfather; however, the mother made the child come and live with her because the child was her biological child, and not the stepfather's.

The domestic violence incident was reported to the Iowa Department of Human Services (Department), and its assessment of the incident led to a founded child abuse report against the mother for denial of critical care. The Department's case worker noted in her report that the mother and the child's relationship continued to be strained and volatile, and the child's separation from his stepfather had been very difficult for the child.

On May 31, 2012, the mother signed a voluntary placement agreement requesting she be relieved of the child's care and custody, pursuant to Iowa Code section 232.2(6)(k) (2011) due to her and the child's relationship issues, as well as frequent and intense disputes that were getting more physical between them. The mother stated she had to restrain the child due to him pushing, kicking, and hitting her. The child was then placed in foster care.

The parents then requested the district court modify their temporary custody arrangements, each requesting all the children be placed with him or her. After a hearing, the court entered its order in June 2012 finding the new issues between the parents constituted a substantial change in circumstances. The court placed the child's half-siblings in the parents' temporary joint custody and joint physical care. However, the court declined to provide for the child at issue here in its order, concluding the stepfather has no legal rights to that child's custody or visitation. The court does not mean to imply that [the stepfather's] contact with [the child] would be harmful. Such contact could actually help [the mother] with [the child]. The court simply has no legal authority to mandate contact over [the mother's] objection.

In early July 2012, the State filed its petition asserting the child was a child in need of assistance (CINA). Shortly thereafter on August 1, the stepfather filed his motion to intervene in the CINA proceeding "for placement of the child as another suitable person and a possible guardian for the child." Additionally, the stepfather asserted in his motion that he was an interested party whose rights could be directly affected by the action and that it was in the child's best interests that he be allowed to intervene.

The next day, the juvenile court entered its order adjudicating the child CINA. It subsequently set a hearing for the stepfather's motion. On August 21, the juvenile court entered its dispositional order approving the child's placement with his biological paternal grandparents. It did not address or mention the stepfather's motion.

On August 30, 2012, the day of the hearing on the stepfather's motion, the child's attorney filed the "child's position statement ...


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