from the Iowa District Court for Jones County, Lars G.
guardians appeal the district court's decision to appoint
successor guardians for a minor child. AFFIRMED.
Christopher M. Soppe of Pioneer Law Office, Dubuque, for
appellants. Rachel R. McCrate of Gray, Stefani &
Mitvalsky, P.L.C., Cedar Rapids, for appellees.
Deborah M. Skelton, Walford, guardian ad litem for minor
Considered by Vogel, P.J., and Tabor and Mullins, JJ.
and Christian Ford, former guardians of a minor child, appeal
the district court's decision to transfer the
guardianship to Kimberly and Jeff Steffensmeiers, the
maternal aunt of the child and her husband. Agreeing that the
transfer was in the child's long-term best interests, we
Facts and Proceedings.
was born in 2009 to Sarah Weaver, n/k/a Sarah Webster, who
struggled with many issues that affected her ability to care
for B.E.W. In 2011, those issues resulted in her agreeing to
a temporary guardianship of B.E.W. with the
Fords. The child was fortunate that the Fords and
the Steffensmeiers had a good relationship, such that she
bonded with both couples and was comfortable in both homes.
Because Webster's life took a different path, including
living out-of-state for a time, preventing Webster from
seeing B.E.W. regularly, the Fords decided in July 2014 to
petition to have Webster's parental rights terminated on
the grounds of abandonment under Iowa Code section 600A.8(3)
(2014). Meanwhile, in September 2014, Webster sought to
terminate the guardianship, but that matter was continued to
allow the termination proceeding to be resolved. After a
hearing on the Fords' petition to terminate Webster's
parental rights, the district court found by order dated
December 8, 2015, the guardians, while having provided good
care for the child, had prevented Webster from having contact
with her child and denied the petition.
January 2015, the Steffensmeiers filed a combined motion to
intervene in the guardianship proceedings along with seeking
to have the guardianship transferred to them. In July 2015,
the court granted their motion to intervene. In December
2015, the guardianship matter came on for a two-day trial.
Webster sought to terminate the guardianship or, in the
alternative, have the guardianship transferred to the
Steffensmeiers; the Fords sought to continue on as the
child's guardians; the Steffensmeiers sought to have the
guardianship transferred to them. The district court denied
Webster's application to have the guardianship terminated
and found it was in the best interests of the child to
transfer the guardianship to the Steffensmeiers. The Fords
case was heard by the district court in equity originating as
a petition to terminate a guardianship. While that issue is
not on appeal, the remaining issue of the transfer of
guardianship was also tried in equity. See Iowa Code
§ 633.33 ("[A]ll other matters triable in probate
shall be tried by the probate court as a proceeding in
equity."). Thus, our review is de novo. Further, because
we are reviewing the transfer of guardianship, which is in
essence a child-custody dispute, the determinative factor is
the best interests of the child. In re Guardianship of
Knell, 537 N.W.2d 778, 780 (Iowa 1995); In re
Guardianship of Sams, 256 N.W.2d 570, 572 (Iowa 1977).
of Guardianship; Best Interests of the Child.
fighting issue on appeal is whether the district court was
correct in transferring the guardianship of B.E.W. from the
Fords to the Steffensmeiers. The Fords argue that B.E.W.-who
was just six years old at the time of trial- had been in
their care for more than four years and was bonded to them.
Transferring guardianship from them, in their opinion and as
supported by their witnesses, would be unnecessarily
disruptive and lead to further distress in this young child.
As B.E.W.'s mother, Webster conceded she had no bond with
the child but believed B.E.W. should live with the
Steffensmeiers in the hope a mother-daughter bond could be
established. Realizing that she may never be in a position to
parent the child, Webster's fallback position was for the
Steffensmeiers to be B.E.W.'s guardians and eventually
adopt her. The Steffensmeiers, who had frequently cared for
B.E.W. during agreed upon visitation weekends, were bonded
with her. They believed the child needed greater stability