IN THE INTEREST OF C.T., Minor Child, R.N., Mother, Petitioner-Appellee, J.T., Father, Respondent-Appellant.
from the Iowa District Court for Page County, Amy L.
Zacharias, District Associate Judge.
appeals from an order terminating his parental rights
pursuant to Iowa Code chapter 600A (2017).
Katherine Kaminsky Murphy of Kate Murphy Law, P.L.C.,
Glenwood, for appellant.
R. Wyatt of Woods & Wyatt, PLLC, Glenwood, for appellee.
R. Danley, Sidney, guardian ad litem for minor child.
Considered by Danilson, C.J., and Mullins and McDonald, JJ.
private termination-of-parental-rights proceeding, Jeremiah,
the father, appeals from an order terminating his parental
rights in his son, C.T. (born 2006). The petition was filed
by C.T.'s mother, Renee, and the district court granted
the petition and terminated Jeremiah's rights pursuant to
Iowa Code section 600A.8(3)(b) and (4) (2017). On appeal,
Jeremiah challenges the sufficiency of the evidence
supporting the statutory grounds authorizing the termination
of his parental rights.
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
review termination proceedings initiated pursuant to Iowa
Code chapter 600A de novo. See In re G.A., 826
N.W.2d 125, 127 (Iowa Ct. App. 2012). It is the
petitioner's burden to prove each element of the case by
clear and convincing evidence. See Iowa Code §
600A.8. Clear and convincing evidence is a higher burden than
a preponderance of the evidence but less than evidence beyond
a reasonable doubt. See In re M.S., 889 N.W.2d 675,
679 (Iowa Ct. App. 2016). "It is the highest evidentiary
burden in civil cases. It means there must be no serious or
substantial doubt about the correctness of a particular
conclusion drawn from the evidence." Id.
"Although our review is de novo, we afford deference to
the district court for institutional and pragmatic
reasons." Hensch v. Mysak, 902 N.W.2d 822, 824
(Iowa Ct. App. 2017). This means we give weight to the
district court's findings of fact.
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).
there is clear and convincing evidence Jeremiah failed to
provide financial support for the child. The parties were
married at one time but have since divorced. Jeremiah was
ordered to pay child support in the amount of $170 per month.
In a subsequent modification proceeding Jeremiah was again
ordered to pay child support in the amount of $170 per month
plus an additional $30 per month for back child support.
Renee testified Jeremiah has not paid child support since
June 2012. Her testimony was corroborated by payment records
from the clerk of court. While Jeremiah testified he believed
he may have paid additional support, he was not able to
produce any evidence of payment.
contends his failure to support was for good cause.
Specifically, he contends he thought he was paying and/or he
was unable to pay. We disagree with the contention
Jeremiah's failure to pay was for good cause. The record
reflects Jeremiah now has four other children in addition to
C.T. Jeremiah testified his wages were subject to an income
withholding order to support his children. Jeremiah testified
he believed, but never verified, some amount of the withheld
wages was to provide support for C.T. Renee testified she
told Jeremiah she was not receiving any support. Renee's
testimony was credible. Despite Renee telling Jeremiah she
was not receiving any child support for C.T., Jeremiah took
no action. He did not contact the child support recovery unit
to follow up on the issue and ensure some of his withheld
wages were for the support of C.T. He did not make voluntary
payments or offer to make voluntary payments to Renee. He
simply chose to ignore his obligation to provide support for
this child. That is insufficient to establish good cause.
See Iowa Code § 600A.1 (providing a parent must
"affirmatively assume the duties encompassed by the role
of being a parent" including "fulfillment of
financial obligations"); see also In re R.K.B.,
572 N.W.2d 600, 602 (Iowa 1998) ("[T]he legislature
intended termination for nonsupport to occur where a
parent's failure to pay manifests indifference to a
does not challenge whether termination of his parental rights
is in the best interest of the child. Nonetheless, we briefly
address the issue. The supreme ...