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In re M.H.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

March 22, 2017

IN THE INTEREST OF M.H. and V.H., Minor children, K.H., Father, Petitioner-Appellee, A.H., Mother, Respondent-Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Kossuth County, Ann M. Gales, District Associate Judge.

         The mother appeals from the termination of her parental rights under Iowa Code chapter 600A. AFFIRMED.

          Pamela A. Wingert of Wingert Law Office, Spirit Lake, for appellant mother.

          K.H., Wesley, pro se appellee father.

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

          POTTERFIELD, Presiding Judge.

         The mother appeals from the district court's order terminating her parental rights to her two children, M.H. and V.H., now ages six and seven, respectively. The children's father initiated this action in April 2015.

         We conduct a de novo review of termination proceedings under chapter 600A. See In re C.A.V., 787 N.W.2d 96, 99 (Iowa Ct. App. 2010). We defer to the factual findings of the district court, especially witness-credibility findings, but we are not bound by them. See In re G.A., 826 N.W.2d 125, 127 (Iowa Ct. App. 2012). In termination proceedings, the best interests of the children involved are "the paramount consideration, " but we also give "due consideration" to the interests of the children's parents. See Iowa Code § 600A.1 (2015). The termination findings must be based on clear and convincing proof. Iowa Code § 600A.8.

         Following a two-day hearing in September 2015, the court terminated the mother's parental rights pursuant to Iowa Code section 600A.8(3)(b)[1] and (9).[2] On appeal, the mother only challenges the court's determination there was clear and convincing evidence to terminate her rights under section 600A.8(3)(b). Because the mother does not challenge the statutory grounds pursuant to section 600A.8(9), she has waived any claim of error regarding that statutory ground for termination. See Hyler v. Garner, 548 N.W.2d 864, 870 (Iowa 1996) ("[O]ur review is confined to those propositions relied upon by the appellant for reversal on appeal."); see also In re C.B., 611 N.W.2d489, 492 (Iowa 2000) ("We have long recognized an appellant must identify alleged error on appeal."). Thus, we find the statutory grounds for terminating have been met pursuant to section 600A.8(9). See In re Voeltz, 271 N.W.2d 719, 723 (Iowa 1978) ("If one of these grounds is established by clear and convincing evidence the termination will be upheld.").

         Next, we consider whether the termination of the mother's parental rights is in the children's best interests. See In re J.L.W., 523 N.W.2d 622, 625 (Iowa Ct. App. 1994) ("Once we determine a ground for termination under 600A.8 has been established by clear and convincing evidence, we must next determine whether it is in the child[ren]'s best interests to order termination of parental rights."). In doing so, we give "due consideration" to the mother's interests. See Iowa Code § 600A.1.

         In August 2012, both children were in the car when the mother, while intoxicated, purposely ran over the father's foot with the vehicle.[3] As a result, the mother received a one-year suspended sentence and lost her driving privileges.[4]The sentence was later imposed after the mother's probation officer filed a report of probation violation based on multiple driving-while-revoked charges. The probation officer added three addendums to the report, the first after the mother was charged with possession of methamphetamine on October 18, 2013; the second after the mother intentionally hit her then-boyfriend with a vehicle on November 10; and the third after the mother arrived to a meeting with her probation officer-two and a half hours late-intoxicated on December 26.

         Due in part to the father's interference with the mother's relationship with the children, but largely due to the mother's continued poor choices, the mother has not seen the children since Christmas Day, 2013, and she has not spoken to them since September 23, 2014.[5] According to the district court, between August 2012 and June 2015, the mother was "convicted of a total of eleven misdemeanor crimes, including five aggravated misdemeanors, four serious misdemeanors, and two simple misdemeanors. [The mother] received at least twelve additional misdemeanor charges which were dismissed as part of plea agreements." Between August 2012 and the September 2015 termination hearing, the mother was in and out of jail at least fifteen times, for a total period of incarceration of approximately 360 days.

         At the time of the termination hearing, the mother was living with a new boyfriend who had been hospitalized more than once for mental-health issues in the two months before the termination hearing. The man had also just been arrested for harassment involving his estranged wife. The mother denied having ever used illegal drugs and denied having an issue with alcohol. However, as the district court noted, the mother was arrested for possession of methamphetamine, and at the time she was arrested, she admitted to officers that she had used the substance within two days. The mother had shown up late to her probation meeting while drunk, and both the father and the paternal grandmother testified the mother had shown up for visits with the children appearing to be intoxicated a few times.

         We acknowledge the father restricted the mother's chances to see or be part of the children's lives as he saw fit. But the mother took no actions to overcome the restrictions. Although her parents hired her an attorney to pursue a court-ordered custody agreement, the custody case was ultimately dismissed. From the record before us, it appears the mother failed to communicate with her attorney-possibly due in part to repeated stints in jail. Additionally, a number of the father's conditions are not unreasonable. He had concerns the mother was living with an abusive boyfriend-a fact the mother repeatedly shared on social media, including bruises she claimed were a result of abuse. He was also concerned about the mother's drug and ...

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