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In re J.H.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

May 3, 2017

IN THE INTEREST OF J.H., Minor Child, J.H., Father, Petitioner-Appellee, A.H., Mother, Respondent-Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Dubuque County, Thomas J. Straka, Associate Juvenile Judge.

         A mother appeals from the termination of her parental rights.

          Taryn R. Purcell of Clemens, Walters, Conlon, Runde & Hiatt, L.L.P., Dubuque, for appellant.

          Patricia M. Reisen-Ottavi of Ottavi Law Firm, Dubuque, for appellee.

          Victoria D. Noel of Mayer, Lonergan & Rolfes, Clinton, for minor child.

          Considered by Danilson, C.J., and Vogel and Vaitheswaran, JJ.

          DANILSON, CHIEF JUDGE.

         A mother appeals from the termination of her parental rights to her child on the petition of the child's father alleging the mother abandoned the child pursuant to Iowa Code section 600A.8(3)(b) (2016). The mother contends the juvenile court erred in finding she abandoned the child, and argues termination of her parental rights is not in the child's best interest. We conclude there is clear and convincing evidence the mother abandoned the child and termination is in the child's best interest. We therefore affirm.

         I. Background Facts & Proceedings.

         The child, J.H., was born in 2006 and was ten years old at the time of the termination hearing. The mother and father were never married, and they separated shortly after J.H. was born. Initially, the parties informally agreed J.H. would live with the mother and the father would have visitation. However, due to the mother's husband's interference in visitation, the father filed an action seeking physical care in 2010. A decree placing physical care with the father and providing visitation to the mother was entered on April 18, 2011.

         In 2013, the department of human services (DHS) became involved with the mother's family because it was learned the mother's husband was using and dealing illegal substances in the family home, one of the children in the home tested positive for illegal substances, and there were concerns of domestic violence. The mother's parental rights to her two other children were terminated in 2015 because the mother could not protect her children by honoring a no-contact order and staying away from her husband.

         A founded child abuse assessment was also completed with respect to J.H. in 2013. The assessment identified the mother's husband as the responsible person for denial of critical care stemming from his use of illegal substances in J.H.'s presence. J.H.'s father subsequently placed limitations on the mother's exercise of visitation, requiring that she not take J.H. to her home or any place where the mother's husband may be. The father offered visitation with J.H. at the father's home, at the home of the mother's parents, and at the home of the father's parents. The mother testified she felt "uncomfortable" visiting J.H. at the father's home. Therefore, at the time of the October 28, 2016 termination hearing, the mother had visited J.H. only twice since December 2014. The mother had not seen J.H. at all since the fall of 2015-approximately one year prior to the termination hearing. Although the mother was provided with J.H.'s basketball schedule, the mother did not attend any games.

         The mother also made only sporadic attempts to communicate with the father and J.H. The father testified the mother would sometimes go thirty days without making contact. The father further testified in the year preceding the termination hearing, there would be gaps of as long as ninety days in communication with the mother

         "Sporadic" also describes of the mother's effort to provide financial support. The mother was ordered to pay the father $80 per month in child support, but made inconsistent payments by way of automatic withholding during periods when she was employed. Over the period of about five years between the 2011 decree and ...


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