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In re A.T.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

June 6, 2018

IN THE INTEREST OF A.T. and A.T., Minor Children, A.B., Mother, Petitioner-Appellee, K.T., Father, Respondent-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Scott County, Christine Dalton Ploof, District Associate Judge.

         Father appeals from the termination of his parental rights pursuant to Iowa Code chapter 600A (2017).

          G. Brian Weiler, Davenport, for appellant.

          Candy K. Pastrnak of Pastrnak Law Firm. P.C., Davenport, for appellee. Rebecca C. Sharpe of Aitken, Aitken & Sharpe, P.C., Bettendorf, guardian ad litem for minor children.

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

          MCDONALD, Judge.

         Kendale appeals from the termination of his parental rights in A.M.T. (born 2007) and A.J.T. (born 2010) pursuant to Iowa Code section 600A.8(3)(b) and (4) (2017). The termination action was brought by the children's mother, Alex. On appeal, Kendale challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the statutory grounds authorizing the termination of his parental rights and the sufficiency of the evidence establishing the termination of his parental rights was in the best interest of the children.

         I.

         "Termination proceedings under Iowa Code chapter 600A are a two-step process. In the first step, the petitioner seeking termination must first show by clear and convincing evidence a threshold event has occurred that opens the door for potential termination of parental rights. Once that threshold showing has been made, the petitioner next must show, by clear and convincing evidence, termination of parental rights is in the best interest of the child." In re Q.G., ___ N.W.2d ___, ___, 2018 WL 2071823, at *9 (Iowa 2018). It is the petitioner's burden to prove each element of the case by clear and convincing evidence. See Iowa Code § 600A.8. We review termination proceedings arising under Iowa Code chapter 600A de novo. See In re Q.G., 2018 WL 2071823, at *8; In re G.A., 826 N.W.2d 125, 127 (Iowa Ct. App. 2012). We defer to the factual findings of the district court, especially witness-credibility findings, but we are not bound by them. See G.A., 826 N.W.2d at 127.

          II.

         A.

         We first address the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the grounds authorizing the termination of Kendale's parental rights. Where, as here, the district court terminated a parent's rights pursuant to more than one statutory provision, we will affirm the termination order if any ground is supported by sufficient evidence. We turn our attention to Iowa Code section 600A.8(4). Pursuant to this provision, the district court may terminate a parent's rights upon clear and convincing evidence the "parent has been ordered to contribute to the support of the child . . . and has failed to do so without good cause." Iowa Code § 600A.8(4). "If there has been a showing of a substantial failure to pay, the court must then consider whether that failure was without good cause. In considering whether there is good cause for failure to pay child support, the key factual issue is the parent's ability to pay. A parent's intent is clearly tied to an ability to pay." See In re M.J.W., No. 17-0149, 2017 WL 2665957, at *3 (Iowa Ct. App. June 21, 2017).

         By way of background, Kendale and Alex were teenagers when Alex became pregnant with A.M.T. After the birth of A.M.T., Kendale and Alex remained in an on-again, off-again relationship for four or five years. During this time, the parents had another child, A.J.T. Throughout the children's lives, Kendale has been involved in criminal activity and provided little to no financial support for the children due to periods of incarceration and voluntary unemployment. The district court found:

Petitioner has proven by clear and convincing proof that [Kendale] was ordered to contribute to the support of his children and that he failed to contribute to their support within the definition of 600A.8(4). Part of the time he was incarcerated and therefore unable to contribute to their support. But he also did not contribute when he was working and when he was released. The largest payment made by him was due to a garnishment of a tax return. He has paid approximately 10% of his ordered financial support. He has an outstanding balance of over $6, 000.00 and was only ordered ...

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