IN THE INTEREST OF M.E., Minor Child, L.E., Father, Petitioner-Appellee, J.P., Mother, Respondent-Appellant.
from the Iowa District Court for Marshall County, Paul G.
Crawford, District Associate Judge.
mother appeals the juvenile court's order terminating her
parental rights under Iowa Code chapter 600A.
L. Wilson-Moore of Wilson Law Firm, Conrad, for appellant
Melissa A. Nine of Nine Law Office, Marshalltown, for
Considered by Doyle, P.J., and Tabor and McDonald, JJ.
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,
find clear and convincing evidence supporting the juvenile
court's decision to terminate Jill's parental rights.
Facts and Prior Proceedings
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.