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In re Guardianship of S.K.M.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

November 8, 2017

IN THE MATTER OF THE GUARDIANSHIP OF S.K.M., JARED MCTAGGART, Interested Party-Father of Minor Child/Appellant, ERIC J. METZ and CHRISTINA M. METZ, Guardians of Minor Child/Appellees.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Dubuque County, Monica L. Ackley, Judge.

         A father appeals from a decision denying his petition to terminate a guardianship over his daughter.

          McKenzie R. Hill of O'Connor & Thomas, P.C., Dubuque, for appellant.

          Jamie A. Splinter of Splinter Law Office, Dubuque, for appellees.

          Heard by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Potterfield and McDonald, JJ.

          MCDONALD, Judge.

         A father, Jared, appeals from an adverse decision on his petition to terminate the guardianship of his minor child, S.K.M.

         I.

         Stephanie and Jared are the parents of S.K.M. (born 2007). The parents separated a few months after the child was born. After the parties separated, Stephanie and S.K.M. lived with relatives in Cedar Rapids and Grinnell. Jared went to college in Dubuque and began working part-time for FedEx, an international package delivery company.

         In early 2009, Stephanie informed Jared she was unable to care for S.K.M., and she asked Jared if he would take physical care of S.K.M. At the time, Jared was still in college and living with roommates. Jared asked for time to get his own apartment. Without waiting, Stephanie gave physical care of S.K.M. to her father, Eric Metz, and his then-girlfriend, now-wife, Christie, in Grinnell. Stephanie informed Jared she was going to file a petition to appoint Eric and Christie S.K.M.'s temporary guardians. Jared was served notice of the guardianship proceeding and had actual knowledge of the guardianship proceeding, but he chose not to participate in the proceeding. The juvenile court established a guardianship for S.K.M. and appointed Eric and Christie S.K.M.'s guardians. After the guardianship was established, Stephanie moved to Colorado. Although she has returned to Iowa, she has had little contact with the child.

         In the summer of 2009, Jared left college and sought full-time employment. He was offered a full-time position with FedEx in Chicago, which he accepted. He moved to Chicago in January 2010. During this time, Jared's mother Brenda exercised visitation with S.K.M. and A.L.M., Jared's other child by another mother, every other weekend. Jared would occasionally make the trip from Chicago to Cedar Rapids to stay with his mother and visit his children. Brenda brought the children to Chicago to see Jared on a few occasions as well. Jared had approximately thirteen or fourteen in-person visits with the children during his time living in Chicago. He had frequent, perhaps even daily, phone contact with S.K.M.

         In early 2012, the Metzes moved to Dubuque. In June 2012, Jared accepted a lateral position with FedEx in Madison, Wisconsin. Jared exercised visitation with S.K.M. more frequently after moving to Madison, which is closer to Dubuque. There was evidence he exercised visits more than every other weekend during the summer of 2012, including some extended visits.

         In August 2013, Jared accepted a promotion with FedEx in Neenah, Wisconsin. Shortly thereafter, the Metzes filed a petition to terminate the parental rights (TPR) of both biological parents. The juvenile court denied the TPR petition. The Metzes appealed, and this court affirmed the juvenile court's decision. See In re S.M., No. 14-0287, 2015 WL 4644820, at *6 (Iowa Ct. App. Aug. 5, 2015). We noted:

It is also in the best interests of S.M. that the father's rights not be terminated. The record established S.M. and the father shared a bond. While he has clearly relinquished the day-to-day care of S.M. to the guardians, and been satisfied with her placement, he has not removed himself from S.M.'s life so as to break that bond.
We do note that the [guardian ad litem (GAL)'s] observation the father did not do nearly as much as he could to meaningfully parent S.M. has merit. A great deal of the father's visitation was taken up with the father's mother caring for S.M. It is also apparent from the record the father visited S.M. when it was convenient for him and his employment, irrespective of S.M.'s need to have her father present. Additionally, the father-given his increased income over the years-could have contributed more to S.M.'s physical care and maintenance.[1] According to the guardian-grandfather, instead of voluntarily contributing to S.M.'s support, the father asked whether the guardians were "going to turn him into child support because he's making more money."
However, these shortcomings do not satisfy the requirements of abandonment within the meaning of Iowa Code section 600A.8(3)(b). As noted above, the record establishes the father satisfied his child support obligation and has maintained contact with S.M. Consequently, we agree with the juvenile court's conclusion the guardians failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence the ...

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