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In re E.T.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

March 7, 2018

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

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Clay County, Charles K. Borth, District Associate Judge.

         A father appeals the juvenile court's termination of his parental rights in a private termination action. AFFIRMED.

          Bethany J. Verhoef Brands of Brands Law Office, Spirit Lake, for appellant father.

          Matthew G. Sease of Kemp & Sease, Des Moines, and John M. Sandy of Sandy Law Firm, P.C., Spirit Lake, for appellee mother.

          James C. Hastings, Okoboji, guardian ad litem for minor child.

          Considered by Danilson, C.J., and Vaitheswaran and Bower, JJ.

          BOWER, JUDGE.

         A father appeals the juvenile court's termination of his parental rights in a private termination action. We find there is sufficient evidence in the record to show the father abandoned the child. Also, termination is in the child's best interests. We affirm the juvenile court.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         The mother and father were married in October of 2009. E.T. was born in 2010. The parents' marriage was dissolved in January of 2013. In August 2013 a Child in Need of Assistance (CINA) petition was filed regarding safety concerns, as the father had left E.T.'s half-brother unsupervised in order to visit his girlfriend. The father had previously been arrested in 2011 for false imprisonment and assault, and in 2013 for disorderly conduct, child endangerment, criminal mischief, operating while intoxicated, and two violations of no-contact orders.

         The father did not attend any review hearings in the CINA case. Contact between E.T. and the father was limited and sporadic. However, as the CINA matter progressed and a petition to terminate parental rights was filed by the State, the father became more active and made significant progress toward the goals set by the court. Ultimately, the father's parental rights were not terminated, and the CINA was dismissed in 2015.

         In March 2016, the father filed for the initiation of contempt proceedings against the mother for obstructing visitation. The district court denied the petition. The father again filed for contempt proceedings five days later. The mother filed a request for modification at the same time. The district court found the mother in contempt for denying visitation, but allowed her to purge the contempt if she followed a transitional visitation schedule. The mother and father engaged in mediation and reached a temporary visitation schedule. The court order allowed the mother to restrict the father's visitation if he engaged in criminal behavior.

         However, the father began to abuse alcohol again. His paramour filed for a protective order alleging domestic abuse and sexual assault. The father quit his job in August of 2016. In November of 2016, the father was charged with domestic abuse by strangulation causing injury. The case was pending at the time of termination. While under a no-contact order against the domestic-abuse victim, the father allegedly broke into the victim's home in the middle of the night while she and her two children slept and while there threatened her, made crude comments, assaulted her, and raped her. The victim's son eventually called the police. The father was charged with violation of a no-contact order, first-degree burglary, and third-degree sexual abuse. These charges were also pending at the time of the termination.

         While the father's destructive and unacceptable behavior increased, he significantly decreased his contact with E.T. The mother estimates the father has seen E.T only thirty times during the course of his life. The last in-person contact was in October ...


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