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In re E.C.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

December 6, 2017

IN THE INTEREST OF E.C., Minor Child, J.C. Mother, Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Woodbury County, Stephanie F. Parry, District Associate Judge.

         A mother appeals a juvenile court dispositional-review order in a child-in-need-of-assistance proceeding modifying the custody of her child.

          Theresa Rachel and Dean A. Fankhauser of Fankhauser Rachel, P.L.C., Sioux City, for appellant mother.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Mary A. Triick, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.

          Matthew R. Metzgar of Rhinehart Law, P.C., Sioux City, for appellee father

          Meret Thali of Juvenile Law Center, Sioux City, guardian ad litem for minor child.

          Considered by Danilson, C.J., and Doyle and Mullins, JJ.

          MULLINS, JUDGE.

         A mother appeals a juvenile court dispositional-review order in a child-in-need-of-assistance (CINA) proceeding modifying the custody of her child, E.C., born in 2013. She contends the custody modification (1) hinders future reunification efforts and (2) is not in the best interests of the child.[1]

         The mother has a long history with the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) concerning her inability to properly care for her children. In January 2017, as a result of concerns regarding physical abuse and continuous inadequate care, E.C. and her three half-siblings were removed from the mother's care and placed in a shelter. They were subsequently placed in foster care. At the time of removal, the children had developmental delays and numerous medical and dental needs the mother was not addressing. In March, the juvenile court adjudicated E.C. and her siblings to be CINA pursuant to Iowa Code section 232.2(6)(c)(2) and (g) (2017). In the adjudication order, the court noted its intention to explore E.C.'s father, who lives in Missouri, as a potential placement.

         In May, the father requested extended visitation with the child over the summer. The mother did not object to such visitation. Following the dispositional hearing less than a week later, the juvenile court ordered the details of any extended visitation to be agreed upon between the father, DHS, and the child's guardian ad litem. The father was ultimately allowed visitation on Memorial Day weekend, two weeks in July, and approximately three weeks in August. It was reported that E.C. became upset when she was required to leave her father's care after periods of visitation and return to her foster parents.

         In July, the father moved for a modification of custody and concurrent jurisdiction. The Missouri Department of Social Services conducted a home study of the father and his significant other and ultimately recommended them for placement of E.C. A dispositional-review and modification hearing was held in August. Following the hearing, the juvenile court concluded "the least restrictive placement that is in [the child's] best interest is with her father" and accordingly transferred the care, custody, and control of the child to her father.[2] The court additionally ordered DHS to develop a plan of contact between the mother and the child and also ordered the father to be supportive of such contact.

         On appeal, the mother contends the custody modification (1) hinders future reunification efforts and (2) is not in the best interests of the child.[3] Our review of CINA proceedings is de novo. In re J.S., 846 N.W.2d 36, 40 (Iowa 2014). Our primary concern is the best interests of the child. Id.

         First and foremost, the mother's argument that the modification will hinder reunification efforts is speculative at best. Her argument appears to rest solely upon her premature assumption that she will be disallowed from having any physical contact with the child. It is true that the father's residence is located several hours away, but visitation can be had by other means. In fact, DHS created a "plan of contact" allowing the mother phone or video contact two times per week and potentially supervised visitation. The plan noted the father is willing to meet the mother at a halfway point to allow future visits to occur. In any event, the mother has historically declined to utilize all of her visitation time with her children and has exhibited a general lack of interest in having her children returned to her. Simply stated, the transfer of custody to the father does not hinder future ...


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