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In re A.L.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

July 5, 2018

IN THE INTEREST OF A.L., Minor Child, D.L., Father, Petitioner-Appellant, R.G., Mother, Respondent-Appellee.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Jeanie K. Vaudt, Judge.

         A father appeals a district court ruling denying his petition to terminate the mother's parental rights under Iowa Code chapter 600A (2017).

          Shayla L. McCormally of McCormally & Cosgrove, P.L.L.C., Des Moines, for appellant.

          Daniel M. Northfield, Urbandale, for appellee.

          Lori A. Bullock of Newkirk Zwagerman, P.L.C., Des Moines, guardian ad litem for minor child.

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

          MULLINS, JUDGE.

         A father appeals a district court ruling denying his petition to terminate the mother's parental rights under Iowa Code chapter 600A (2017). The father argues the district court erred in concluding there was not clear and convincing evidence to support termination under Iowa Code section 600A.8(3)(b) and termination is not in the best interests of the child.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         Upon our de novo review of the record, we make the following findings of fact. The mother and father met in 2009 and began dating. Their relationship produced the child in interest, born in February 2010. When the child was born, the parents were about sixteen years old, both were living with the child's maternal grandfather, neither was attending school or working, and both were regularly using drugs and consuming alcohol. Both parents have a history of engaging in criminal activity. At first, both parents cared for the child, with help from the maternal grandfather. A few months into the child's life, however, the father moved back in with his own father because "things just weren't going good between" him and the mother. After the parents discontinued their relationship, the maternal grandfather became the primary caregiver for the child. The father continued to have occasional visitation with the child at a minimum of once a month, sometimes more. The mother, on the other hand, conceded in her testimony she was not around the child very much in the first few years of the child's life.

         In late 2012 or early 2013, the father discontinued his drug use. The father began a relationship with M.W.[1] in 2013 and the two moved in together "right away." For an approximate one-and-one-half year period from about late 2012 to early 2014, the mother was living with the child and the maternal grandparents and assisted in caring for the child. In the spring of 2014, the mother, according to her testimony, "ended up getting back on drugs," after which the mother "kind of just left," leaving the child with the maternal grandfather, "figur[ing] he would raise her." Thereafter, in April 2014, the child began living with the father and M.W. on a full-time basis. The child was four years old at this time, and the child and M.W. connected immediately. After the child began living with the father full time, the father and M.W., for a time, continued to have a good relationship with the maternal grandparents and allowed them to have visitation with the child.

         In August 2014, the mother visited the father's residence and requested visitation with the child. According to the father's testimony, the mother was "strung out" on drugs. The mother asked the child if she wanted to leave with her, but the child stated she wanted to stay with her mom, referring to M.W. The father admitted in his testimony that he did not want the child to be around the mother. He expressly advised the maternal grandparents over the years that if the mother is present at their home, then he would not want the child to be there. After the August visit, the mother "didn't really try" to contact the father for visitation. The mother testified to her reasoning for the lack of contact as follows:

I also knew that my parents said if I was around [the father] would not let [them] have [her]. So I stayed away. I was on drugs, and I felt like-I would never do drugs around my daughter, and I didn't want her to be around me when I was on drugs. So I stayed away.
I felt like if I came back and tried, he would take me to court. And I was in no position to be in front of a judge being like, I want my daughter.
. . . .
. . . . Like I said, I was on drugs, and I didn't want her around that. It was my problem and I didn't get sober, and I didn't-and I didn't come and see her.

         When asked why the mother chose to stay away from the child after August 2014, she further explained, "I believed it was the best thing . . . for her because I was on drugs and the best thing for my parents because if I was around, they wouldn't be able to see her." The mother had ...


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