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In re X.L.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

August 16, 2017

IN THE INTEREST OF X.L. and X.H., Minor Children, S.L., Mother, Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Cerro Gordo County, DeDra L. Schroeder, Judge.

         A mother appeals from the juvenile court's order terminating her parental rights. AFFIRMED.

          Michael J. Moeller of Sorensen & Moeller Law Office, Clear Lake, for appellant mother.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Anagha Dixit, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.

          Crystal L. Ely of North Iowa Youth Law Center, Mason City, attorney and guardian ad litem for minor children.

          Considered by Vogel, P.J., and Potterfield and Mullins, JJ.

          MULLINS, Judge.

         A mother appeals from the juvenile court's order terminating her parental rights to her two children: X.H., born in May 2004, and X.L., born in December 2014.[1] She argues the State failed to prove the statutory grounds for termination by clear and convincing evidence, termination is not in the children's best interests, the juvenile court should have given her additional time to work toward reunification with her children, and an exception to termination exists because the mother shares a close bond with her children. The mother also claims the juvenile court should have granted her motion to dismiss the termination proceedings due to procedural deficiencies in the underlying child-in-need-of-assistance (CINA) cases. Upon our de novo review, we affirm.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         This family came to the attention of the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) in December 2014 after X.L. tested positive for marijuana at birth. The children were removed from the mother's custody in January 2015 due to the mother's involvement in an altercation with X.L.'s father. In February, the mother stipulated to the adjudication of X.L. and X.H. as CINA, and the children were returned to the mother's custody subject to DHS supervision. In August 2015, the children were again removed from the mother's custody and placed in family foster care, due to the mother physically abusing X.H. The children were then returned to their mother's care again in May 2016; but in October, DHS requested removal of the children due to the fact the children's whereabouts were unknown, DHS did not know where the family was staying, X.H. had not been in school, and the mother was not responding to any attempts to contact her. The children were eventually located and removed from the mother's custody for a third time in November 2016. After the children were removed this final time, X.H. reported the mother's boyfriend had sexually abused her on several occasions. X.H. also reported she had told her mother about the abuse multiple times, but the mother continued her relationship with the man despite X.H.'s complaints and continued to allow him to be around the children alone.

         In February 2017, the State filed a petition for termination of parental rights. The court held a hearing on the petition in April 2017. Following the hearing, the juvenile court terminated the mother's parental rights pursuant Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(e) and (h) (2017).[2]

         II. Standard of Review

         We review termination-of-parental-rights proceedings de novo. In re M.W., 876 N.W.2d 212, 219 (Iowa 2016). "We are not bound by the juvenile court's findings of fact, but we do give them weight, especially in assessing the credibility of witnesses." Id. (quoting In re A.M., 843 N.W.2d 100, 110 (Iowa 2014)). Our primary consideration is the best interests of the child. In re J.E., 723 N.W.2d 793, 798 (Iowa 2006).

         III. Analysis

         "Our review of termination of parental rights under Iowa Code chapter 232 is a three-step analysis." In re M.W., 876 N.W.2d at 219. First, we must determine whether the State established the statutory grounds for termination by clear and convincing evidence. See Iowa Code § 232.116(1); In re M.W., 876 N.W.2d at 219. Second, if the State established statutory grounds for termination, we consider whether termination is in the children's best interests under section 232.116(2). See In re M.W., 876 N.W.2d at 219-20. Finally, we consider whether any exceptions under section 232.116(3) weigh against termination. See id. at 220.

         A. ...


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