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In the Interest of T.J.L.R.

January 9, 2013


Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Pottawattamie County, Craig M. Dreismeier, District Associate Judge.

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

Two fathers whose sons have the same mother appeal the termination of their parental rights. AFFIRMED ON BOTH APPEALS.

Considered by Potterfield, P.J., and Danilson and Tabor, JJ.

The Department of Human Services removed Anna's two sons from her care because she was not able to maintain a suitable home and struggled with substance abuse and mental health problems. At the time of the termination hearing, T.J.R. was three years old and his half-brother T.M. was eleven. The juvenile court terminated Anna's parental rights to both children. The court also terminated the parental rights of T.M.'s father Steve and T.J.R.'s father Shane, both of whom were incarcerated at various points during the juvenile court proceedings. The fathers appeal.*fn1

I. Background Facts and Proceedings

T.M. was removed from Anna's care and adjudicated as a child in need of assistance (CINA) in the spring of 2009 because the condition of her home was filthy and unsafe for her son. At this time, Anna did not have good control over her depression and bipolar disorders because her pregnancy required her to discontinue her medications. T.J.R. was born in May 2009. After his birth, Anna resumed taking her medications and was able to regulate her mental health conditions. T.M. was returned home in July 2009.

The Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) removed both boys from Anna's home in January 2010 after she tested positive for methamphetamine.

Both Steve, T.M.'s father, and Shane, TJ.R.'s father, have missed time with their sons because they were serving prison time. Steve was incarcerated in Missouri before his release on August 3, 2011. After his release, he failed to appear for a scheduled visitation with T.M. and failed to appear for a permanency review hearing on November 3, 2011. By the time of the next permanency review hearing on March 14, 2012, Steve was incarcerated in Nebraska.

Shane was released from prison in May 2011 and began services at that time. The DHS offered him supervised visitation and initially he responded well to T.J.R.'s needs. Shane was eventually allowed unsupervised visits in public settings. But by the end of 2011, Shane started to show up late for visitation, stopped complying with drug testing, and logged several arrests. In January 2012, the DHS returned him to supervised visits, which he stopped attending all together in April 2012. Shane committed domestic violence against Anna; she reported the most recent assault on April 23, 2012.

In April 2012, the county attorney filed a petition seeking the termination of parental rights for Anna, Shane, and Steve. The juvenile court held hearings on May 17 and May 29, 2012. On June 14, 2012, the court issued an order terminating the parental rights of the mother and both fathers. The court determined that Steve's rights regarding T.M. should be terminated based on the following provisions: Iowa Code sections 232.116(1)(b), 232.116(1)(d), 232.116(1)(e), 232.116(1)(f) and 232.116(1)(i). The court decided Shane's rights regarding T.J.R. should be terminated based on the following provisions: 232.116(b), 232.116(d), 232.116(1)(e), 232.116(1)(h), and 232.116(1)(i). We will address the arguments by each father in turn.

II. Standards of Review

We perform a de novo review of juvenile court orders terminating parental rights. In re D.W., 791 N.W.2d 703, 706 (Iowa 2010). While they are not binding on us, we give weight to the juvenile court's findings of fact, especially in assessing the credibility of witnesses. Id. We will uphold a termination order if the record contains clear and convincing evidence of the grounds alleged under Iowa Code section 232.116. Id. Evidence is "clear and convincing" when there are no "serious or substantial doubts as to the correctness or conclusions of law drawn from the evidence." Id.

Termination cases follow a three-step analysis. In re P.L., 778 N.W.2d 33, 39 (Iowa 2010). First, the juvenile court must determine if the petitioning party has established a ground for termination under section 232.116(1). Id. Second, the court must apply the best-interest framework set out in section 232.116(2). Id. Third, if the best-interest framework supports termination, the court ...

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