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In re A.F.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

December 5, 2013

IN THE INTEREST OF A.F., A.F., and N.L., Minor Children,
v.
B.L., Mother, Appellant, N.F., Father, Appellant.

Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Wright County, Paul B. Ahlers, District Associate Judge.

A mother and father appeal separately from the order terminating their parental rights.

Jane Wright, Forest City, for appellant mother. Barbara Westphal, Belmond, for appellant father.

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Kathrine Miller-Todd, Assistant Attorney, and Eric Simonson, County Attorney, for appellee State.

Alesha Sigmeth Roberts of Elberg Law Office, P.L.C., for minor children.

Considered by Vogel, P.J., and Mullins and McDonald, JJ.

Mc DONALD, J.

Brooke and Nicholas appeal an order terminating their parental rights to their children, A.F. and A.F. Brooke also appeals the termination of her parental rights to her child, N.L., a child from a prior relationship whose father's rights are not at issue in this proceeding. On appeal, Brooke and Nicholas contend that they did not knowingly, voluntarily, and with good cause give consent to the termination of their parental rights.

I.

This family came to the attention of the Iowa Department of Human Services (hereinafter "DHS") following an incident of domestic violence in which Nicholas strangled Brooke in the presence of the children. Ultimately, the children were adjudicated in need of assistance pursuant to Iowa Code section 232.2(6)(c)(2) (2011), and a protective order was issued prohibiting contact between Brooke and Nicholas. The protective order was deemed appropriate because Nicholas repeatedly choked, hit, slapped, and punched Brooke in front of the children. On one occasion, Nicholas threw Brooke down a staircase while she was pregnant. Despite the existence of the protective order, Brooke and Nicholas continued to have contact with each other to the detriment of their children.

In October 2012, during a home visit by DHS, Nicholas was found to be at Brooke's home. Brooke and Nicholas tried to conceal Nicholas's presence from DHS by having him hide in a closet. This violation of the protective order caused the children to be removed from the home and placed in the custody of DHS. On another occasion, Brooke and Nicholas jointly traveled to Las Vegas to get married. They had no contact with the children for one month during their absence. In July 2013, the parents were both ordered to serve ten days' incarceration in jail after being found in contempt of court for violating the protective order. According to DHS, each time Brooke and Nicholas violated the protective order, they would stop visiting the children and meeting with service providers for fear of getting arrested. According to DHS, this sporadic contact with the children was confusing and difficult for the children. Of additional concern was Nicholas's conduct and attitude. Nicholas was often verbally abusive. On one occasion, he threatened to put a gun in the face of one worker if she stepped on his property. This behavior, combined with the physical abuse to Brooke, put the children's safety in jeopardy.

In September 2013, it came to the juvenile court's attention that Brooke and Nicholas had once again likely violated the protective order. Contempt proceedings were initiated. The juvenile court scheduled a show cause hearing to occur on the same date as the previously scheduled final pretrial conference for these termination proceedings. On the date of the hearing, after speaking with their respective attorneys, Brooke and Nicholas notified the juvenile court that they desired to consent to the termination of their parental rights with respect to the children, pursuant to Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(a) (2013). After a hearing on the matter, the court accepted Brooke's and Nicholas's consents to the termination of their parental rights and entered an order to that effect. As the protective order was put in place only to protect the children, the court dismissed the contempt proceedings and cancelled the protective order.

II.

We review de novo proceedings terminating parental rights. See In re H.S., 805 N.W.2d 737, 745 (Iowa 2011). We examine both the facts and law, and we adjudicate anew those issues properly preserved and presented. See In re L.G., 532 N.W.2d 478, 480-81 (Iowa Ct. App. 1995). We give weight to the findings of the juvenile court, especially concerning the credibility of witnesses, but we are not bound by them. See id. at 481. While giving weight to the findings of the juvenile court, our statutory obligation to review termination proceedings de novo means our review is not a rubber stamp of what has come before. We will thus uphold an order terminating parental rights only if there is clear and convincing evidence of grounds for termination. See In re C.B., 611 N.W.2d ...


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