IN THE INTEREST OF J.M., L.M., and B.M., Minor Children, SHANNON M. LEIGHTY, guardian ad litem, Appellant.
from the Iowa District Court for Story County, Stephen A.
Owen, District Associate Judge.
guardian ad litem appeals the denial of
termination-of-parental-rights petitions concerning three
Shannon M. Leighty of the Public Defender's Office,
Nevada, appellant. Patrick C. Peters of Payer, Hunziker,
Rhodes & Peters, LLP, Ames, for appellee father.
Daniela Matasovic of Matasovic Law Firm, Ames, for appellee
J. Miller, Attorney General, and Anagha Dixit, Assistant
Attorney General, for appellee State.
Considered by Vogel, P.J., and Potterfield and Mullins, JJ.
guardian ad litem appeals the denial of
termination-of-parental-rights (TPR) petitions concerning
three children, L.M., B.M., and J.M., born in 2013, 2014, and
2017, respectively. She contends the juvenile court erred in
not terminating the parents' parental rights as to all
three children pursuant to Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(b),
(e), and (l) (2017). She also argues the court erred
in concluding termination of the parents' parental rights
as to the youngest child, J.M., under section 232.116(1)(h)
was not in the child's best interests.
Background Facts and Proceedings
parents and children came to the attention of the Iowa
Department of Human Services (DHS) in February 2017 when the
mother visited the hospital and tested positive for
methamphetamine (meth). The State also alleged that both
parents cared for the two older children while under the
influence of meth. Shortly thereafter, the mother gave birth
to the youngest of the three children and both she and the
child tested positive for meth. The mother also tested
positive for amphetamines and opiates. In March, the parents
stipulated to removal and the children were adjudicated
children in need of assistance (CINA).
April, DHS recommended both parents undergo substance-abuse
and mental-health treatment. The father began inpatient
substance-abuse treatment but left after a few days. He began
outpatient treatment in May, but he did not attend his
sessions consistently. He was discharged from the program in
July for lack of attendance, having attended only one group
session and no individual sessions. The mother also began
inpatient substance-abuse treatment, but she left the program
after about a week. The mother's subsequent attempts to
complete an inpatient treatment program were unsuccessful.
Neither parent obtained mental-health treatment. Neither
parent heeded DHS's recommendation to attend parenting
father was arrested in Iowa on or about July 19 and was
subsequently extradited to Georgia, having had his probation
on a charge of credit card fraud revoked in response to his
failure of drug tests. His tentative release date was January
18, 2018. His release would be followed by three years of
probation, which he would be allowed to serve in Iowa upon
his completion of a thirty-day, inpatient-rehabilitation
program following his release. The father testified his drug
addiction has been "off and on" for the last ten
years. The father has not seen his children since the
commencement of his incarceration in July. However, in the
three months leading up to the termination hearing, he talked
to the two older children almost once a week via phone.
September, the mother moved from Iowa to Georgia to live with
her parents. She testified she made the move because she has
no support system in Iowa to help her stay clean. Since the
move to Georgia, the mother has not had any contact with the
children, but she has text messaged their foster placements
"to ask how they were." A home study was done on
the mother's parents' home, but the Georgia Division
of Family and Children Services concluded the home was not a
suitable placement for the children, citing a number of
concerns. At the time of the termination hearing, the mother
was not engaged in any substance-abuse treatment but had
plans to start outpatient treatment in the coming months. She
testified she had not used since moving to Georgia.
parents were honest with DHS about their drug use throughout
the case, which was continuous before the father's
incarceration in July and the mother's move to Georgia in
September. Before the father's incarceration and the
mother's move to Georgia, their visitations with the
children were sporadic and the longest period of sobriety
either parent was able to attain was eleven days. The parents
have not provided any financial support to the children
throughout the case. The parents seem to plan to return to
Iowa and resume their relationship upon the father's
release from jail. Both parents recognize that they each
trigger the other's drug use.
being placed with their current foster parents, the two older
children's behavior has improved, especially since the
discontinuance of visits with their biological parents. The
children have become integrated into the foster home and are
bonded with their foster parents. The youngest child has been
placed with her foster mother since she was one month old;
the child has a strong bond with her foster mother. Both
homes the children are residing in are pre-adoptive
placements. There is no bond between the two older children
and the youngest child due to lack of meaningful contact. It
is undisputed that the parents care deeply for all three
children. However, the parents' bond with the children
appears to have slightly decreased as the case has
State filed termination petitions as to all three children.
Following a hearing in November, the juvenile court denied
the State's petitions. The court concluded clear and
convincing evidence did not support termination under Iowa
Code section 232.116(1)(b) because the father's
incarceration and the mother's move to Georgia to obtain
sobriety did not amount to intentional acts to abandon or
desert the children. As to section 232.116(1)(e), the court
concluded clear and convincing evidence did not support a
finding that the parents have not maintained significant and
meaningful contact with the children during the previous six
months. The court also concluded clear and convincing
evidence did not support termination under section
232.116(1)(l) because the opinions offered by expert
witnesses as to each parent's prognosis were stale,
having been formulated several months before the termination
hearing and not reexamined in light of the parents'
recent sobriety. Next, the court concluded the State
established clear and convincing evidence to support
termination under section 232.116(1)(h) as to J.M. but found
it was in the child's best interests to allow the parents
an additional six ...