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In re K.S.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

April 5, 2017

IN THE INTEREST OF K.S., Minor child, J.S., Father, Petitioner-Appellee M.K., Mother, Respondent-Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Linn County, Casey D. Jones, District Associate Judge.

         The mother appeals from the district court's order terminating her parental rights to her child, K.S., now age sixteen. The children's father initiated this action under Iowa Code section 600A.8(3)(2016) in April 2016. AFFIRMED.

          Andrew C. Abbott of Abbott Law Office, P.C., Waterloo, for appellant mother. Crystal L. Usher of Nazette, Marner, Nathanson & Shea L.L.P., Cedar Rapids, for appellee father.

          Kristen A. Shaffer of Shuttleworth & Ingersoll, P.L.C., Cedar Rapids, guardian ad litem for minor child.

          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 child, K.S., age sixteen at the time of trial. The children's father initiated this action in August 2016.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background.

         K.S.'s biological mother and father were married at the time of her birth in 2000. In 2005, the parties dissolved their marriage by decree. The decree awarded shared physical care of K.S. to the mother and father. The father married his current wife in 2006. The stepmother has been a caregiver to K.S. for approximately ten years.

         The decree was modified multiple times, in part due to the mother's methamphetamine addiction and its resulting harm to K.S. In 2008, for example, the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) completed a founded child abuse report against the mother for denial of critical care. DHS determined that although the mother was not actively using methamphetamine in the presence of K.S., the effects of methamphetamine were still in her system while the mother was caring for K.S., and supplies used to make methamphetamine were present in the home. In 2009, the parties modified the custody provisions of the decree requiring a one-year sobriety period before the mother could have unsupervised visitation. The mother never attempted to demonstrate sobriety and the father testified the mother has never been sober from methamphetamine for a period of one year. In 2011, the mother successfully moved to modify the decree to receive more traditional visitation, and the father testified that he attempted to give her a chance at more visits.

          In 2012, the DHS issued another founded child abuse report against the mother based on methamphetamine use in the presence of K.S.[1] In 2013, the court entered a default decree modifying the custody provisions so that the father had sole discretion over visitation regarding the length, time, and degree of supervision for each visit with K.S. According to the father's testimony, the parties attempted visitations between the mother and K.S. at the father's home, but because the visits were stressful and often ended in arguments, the father moved visits to the maternal grandparents' home, pursuant to the decree provisions. The parties planned a visit around Christmas in 2013 at the maternal grandparents' home but the mother did not attend. Apart from the occasional text or Facebook communication referencing visitation, the mother has not attempted to schedule any official visitations at the maternal grandparents' home or with any other qualified supervisor since 2013. In fact, K.S. has not seen her mother at an official visit since 2013. The father testified the mother attempted unannounced, unsupervised visits when the father and stepmother were not at home, which was in violation of the most recent modification order.

         The mother's methamphetamine abuse was a factor during the termination proceedings. In July 2016, nearly one month before the termination trial, the mother left a voicemail for the father stating she was arrested for possession of methamphetamine. The disposition of the possession charge, if any, is not a part of this record.

          The mother's substance-abuse issues have taken an emotional and physical toll on K.S. throughout her childhood. K.S.'s guardian ad litem (GAL) reports that K.S. has trust and communication issues with the mother due to the mother's methamphetamine use. Text messages and other communications also indicate a failing relationship between the mother and K.S. These communications were often in violation of the most recent modification order. In the communications, K.S. often expresses frustration and anger based on the mother's threats, abrasive language, inappropriate contact, and methamphetamine use. K.S. sought treatment for depression, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts based, in part, on K.S.'s difficulties with her mother. The child's therapist raised concerns over the mother's inappropriate behavior suggesting it is a source of K.S.'s stress and anxiety.

         In the years leading up to the termination trial, the mother and father attempted to facilitate the stepmother's adoption of K.S. On multiple occasions, the mother expressed consent to termination, but she would often withdraw consent at the last minute. In 2014, the mother told the stepmother, "I'm asking you to adopt her, " and "just mail the [consent] papers and you won't have to deal with me anymore, " as indicated by multiple text messages. The mother also expressed to K.S. that she wanted the stepmother to adopt her. In fact, paperwork to execute the termination and adoption was delivered to the mother in 2015 at her request. However, she never followed through and the father testified he ...


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