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In re M.E.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

March 7, 2018

IN THE INTEREST OF M.E., Minor Child, L.E., Father, Petitioner-Appellee, J.P., Mother, Respondent-Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Marshall County, Paul G. Crawford, District Associate Judge.

         A mother appeals the juvenile court's order terminating her parental rights under Iowa Code chapter 600A. AFFIRMED.

          Jennie L. Wilson-Moore of Wilson Law Firm, Conrad, for appellant mother.

          Melissa A. Nine of Nine Law Office, Marshalltown, for appellee father.

          Considered by Doyle, P.J., and Tabor and McDonald, JJ.

          TABOR, JUDGE.

         A mother, Jill, appeals the juvenile court's order terminating her parental rights to her now seven-year-old son, M.E. The court granted the petition filed by M.E.'s father, Luke, who alleged Jill abandoned their son within the meaning of Iowa Code section 600A.8(3)(b) (2015). The court found Jill's use of illicit drugs and criminal conduct rendered her unavailable as a parent to M.E. Jill now argues the court was mistaken in finding she did not maintain "substantial and continuous or repeated contact" with M.E. She blames Luke's actions, not her own incarceration or addiction, for her infrequent interactions with their son. After reviewing the record independently, [1] we find clear and convincing evidence supporting the juvenile court's decision to terminate Jill's parental rights.

         I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

         Jill and Luke dated but never married. Jill gave birth to M.E. in October 2010. Jill first informed Luke he might be the father in January 2011 while Luke was deployed to Afghanistan. On leave the next month, Luke took a paternity test confirming he was M.E.'s father. Jill was M.E.'s primary caregiver until he was about one year old. Luke and Jill jointly cared for M.E. briefly in late 2011, but by January 2012, Luke took over the child-rearing responsibilities.

         Jill admits to having a "bad addiction" to opiates and heroin. Luke started caring for M.E. on his own following an incident in which Luke and Jill's father requested police assistance to prevent Jill from taking M.E. They reported Jill had been living with another drug addict with a lengthy criminal history. Later in 2012, Jill had several arrests for possession of controlled substances and spent time in jail. She also entered inpatient-substance-abuse treatment, but did not complete the program. She had little contact with Luke and M.E. during that year. In 2013, Jill attended a court-ordered, dual-diagnosis treatment program but did not successfully complete the after-care sessions. Luke did not hear from Jill for long stretches during 2013. In October 2013, the district court held a custody hearing, but Jill did not appear. The district court issued an order placing M.E. in Luke's physical care and granting Jill supervised visitation. The decree specified Jill was not allowed unsupervised visits until she could provide hair follicle tests that were negative for all illegal and non-prescribed drugs for a period of six months. The decree did not require Jill to pay child support.

         In 2014, Jill had additional legal troubles, including flight from an arrest warrant in March. She incurred a new drug-possession charge in April. She left a drug rehabilitation program after just four days and ended up serving a prison term at the Iowa Correctional Institute for Women in Mitchellville. She was released in November 2014. On January 24, 2015, Luke and his wife, Lauren, allowed Jill to have a supervised visit with M.E. Luke and Lauren did not know Jill had tested positive for opiates and methamphetamine four days earlier. Because of the violation, a warrant issued for Jill's arrest on January 28. She evaded arrest until September 2015. Luke testified Jill did not contact him and M.E. while she was "on the run." In October 2015, Jill was sentenced to serve an indeterminate two-year prison term. That same month, Luke filed a petition asking to terminate Jill's parental relationship with M.E.

         Jill was released from prison in December 2015. M.E. told Luke that he saw Jill when visiting his maternal grandparents around Christmas. A few weeks later, in January 2016, Jill gave birth to a second child; Luke was not the father, and Jill had not told him about the pregnancy. The baby tested positive for heroin at birth. Jill made two unsuccessful attempts at inpatient drug treatment in the spring of 2016. Jill returned to the Iowa Correctional Institute for Women in the fall of 2016. In November, Jill called Luke from prison and asked for telephone contact with M.E. They arranged for her to phone M.E. every Wednesday night, but Jill only called two or three times.

         The juvenile court held a two-day hearing on Luke's petition in January 2017. Jill was still incarcerated at the time of the hearing. The court issued its order terminating Jill's parental relationship with M.E. in June 2017. She now appeals that order.

         II. ...


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