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In the Interest of

February 13, 2013


Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Linn County, Jane F. Spande, Associate Juvenile Judge.

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

A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to her child. AFFIRMED.

Heard by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Tabor and Mullins, JJ.

A.M.L.-who is now seven-has had no contact with her mother, Shawna, for more than three years. The juvenile court granted a petition filed by A.M.L.'s father, James, to terminate Shawna's parental rights under Iowa Code section 600A.8 (2011). Shawna appeals, challenging the proof of abandonment, the court's jurisdiction to consider her failure to pay court-ordered support, and whether the termination is in A.M.L.'s best interests.

Upon our de novo review, we find clear and convincing evidence supports the court's decision to terminate for abandonment under section 600A.8(3). Because we also conclude severing the relationship with her biological mother serves A.M.L.'s best interests, we affirm the order terminating Shawna's parental rights.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings

James and Shawna met in October 2004 and dated for approximately two

weeks. Shawna became pregnant and gave birth to A.M.L. in August 2005. Shawna did not name James as the father on the birth certificate.

In June 2007, James married Amanda. They have two daughters together.

James learned A.M.L. might be his daughter in November 2008 when he was served with notice of a child support action filed by the State of Iowa. Paternity testing confirmed James was A.M.L.'s father. On March 17, 2009, one month after his paternity was confirmed, James filed a petition to establish paternity, custody, and visitation. At that time, Shawna was incarcerated on pending charges of criminal mischief and aiding and abetting theft and burglary. The court granted James temporary custody of A.M.L.

A.M.L. had no relationship with James or his family when he assumed custody, and several uniformed law enforcement officers participated in the process of moving the child on March 23, 2009. Shawna's mother, Amy, received James's email address and cellular telephone number on that date. Amy used the information to contact James and Amanda about A.M.L. The grandmother did not provide the contact information to Shawna because she did not believe she had the authority to do so.

At the April 15, 2009 hearing on temporary custody, Shawna agreed A.M.L. should remain with James. A review hearing was set for July 22, 2009, but notice was sent to the wrong address for Shawna. The court continued the hearing until September 25, 2009, and both James and Shawna attended. Both parents were ordered to participate in mediation education classes, which they did on October 2, 2009.

The court held another review hearing on October 27, 2009. At that time, James was employed by Sears and the court ordered him to provide Shawna with his work schedule. James quit that job about one week later-before providing her with his schedule. At the review hearing, Shawna asked to see A.M.L. the following weekend. James told her to call to make arrangements, but Shawna failed to call.

When the court first placed A.M.L. with James, several circumstances indicated the girl had suffered neglect in Shawna's care. The juvenile court noted that in March 2009, A.M.L. was "still very small and, although three years of age, was regularly using diapers" because Shawna made "no effort to toilet train" her. Her speech was severely delayed. The child's medical records show she suffered a number of respiratory infections and at the age of two, ingested flea and tick medication. A.M.L. also had suffered a second-degree burn to her hand when she fell on an open oven door. In September 2007, a friend of Shawna brought A.M.L. in for a doctor's appointment; the doctor's notes stated, "I am worried about her speech and language development. I am worried about her overall physical development, and I am worried about her eating and sleeping as well." In January 2009, Shawna suspected her boyfriend had sexually abused A.M.L.

Immediately after A.M.L. was placed in his care, James took her to counseling where she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Her counselors suspected she had reactive attachment disorder and referred her to a specialist, Dr. Beth Troutman. A.M.L. met with Dr. Troutman daily at first. Shawna attended two of her daughter's therapy sessions. A.M.L. became very upset at Shawna's presence at the first therapy session so Shawna observed the second session from behind glass in an adjoining room. Dr. Troutman recommended Shawna attend individual therapy sessions with her, but Shawna did not follow ...

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