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In re R.T.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

March 8, 2017

IN THE INTEREST OF R.T., Minor Child, K.T., Grandmother, Petitioner-Appellee, R.N., Mother, Respondent-Appellant.

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

         A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights under Iowa Code chapter 600A (2016). REVERSED AND REMANDED.

          J. Joseph Narmi, Council Bluffs, for appellant mother.

          Stephen C. Ebke of Ebke Law Office, Council Bluffs, for appellee grandmother.

          David J. McCann of Law Offices of David J. McCann, Council Bluffs, guardian ad litem for minor child.

          Heard by Potterfield, P.J., and Doyle and Tabor, JJ.

          TABOR, Judge.

         A mother, Rachel, appeals the juvenile court's order terminating her parental rights to her eight-year-old daughter, R.T., who has been under the legal guardianship of her paternal grandmother, Kris, since 2011. Rachel argues she did not abandon R.T. within the meaning of Iowa Code section 600A.8(3)(b) (2016) and termination of her parental rights would not be in R.T.'s best interests. After our independent review of the record, [1] we find Kris failed to prove the statutory grounds for abandonment. Accordingly, we reverse the order of the juvenile court.

         I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

         Rachel and John are the unmarried parents of R.T., who was born in August 2008. When their daughter was born, Rachel and John were living with John's parents, Kris and Larry. In 2009, the police found drug paraphernalia in the bedroom occupied by Rachel and John, spurring their entry into substance-abuse treatment. R.T. remained with her grandparents. R.T. returned to her parents' care a few months later, but in 2011, Rachel and John both relapsed.

         In December 2011, Rachel and John consented to placing R.T. in a legal guardianship with Kris and Larry. All agreed the guardianship would last until R.T. was eighteen years old, unless Rachel and John were able to provide a safe living environment for R.T. before then. In the ensuing years, Kris and Larry retained physical care of R.T. The grandparents considered "letting [R.T.] go back" to her mother's care in 2014 when Rachel was sober and appeared to be turning her life around; R.T. spent alternating weekends in her mother's care during a period of about four months.

         Rachel and John's second daughter was born in 2014. In 2015, Rachel's relationship with John ended. In October 2015, Larry, who was a father figure to Rachel, died. As "things started falling apart, " Rachel relapsed. As a result, Rachel and John placed their second daughter in a guardianship with her maternal grandparents.[2]

         During this time frame, Kris started placing restrictions on Rachel's visitation with R.T., requiring Rachel to schedule visits ahead of time, arrive sober, and refrain from asking Kris for money at the visits.[3] After Kris began to suspect Rachel was stealing from her, she stopped allowing visits in her home. Rachel became less reliable, often failing to attend scheduled visits or showing up late. Rachel's contact with R.T. decreased to two or three times each month, according to Kris's testimony.

         On March 1, 2016, Kris filed a petition to terminate Rachel's parental rights.[4] One month later, Rachel was arrested for possession of methamphetamine and marijuana. Rachel pleaded guilty and received a ...


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