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In re H.P.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

August 15, 2018

IN THE INTEREST OF H.P., M.P., and M.P., Minor Children, K.P., Mother, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Buena Vista County, Mary L. McCollum Timko, Associate Juvenile Judge.

         A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to her children.

          Andrew J. Smith of Mack, Hansen, Gadd, Armstrong & Brown, PC, Storm Lake, for appellant mother.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Anagha Dixit, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.

          Theresa Rachel of Fankhauser Rachel, PLC, Sioux City, guardian ad litem for minor children.

          Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Doyle and Mullins, JJ.

          DOYLE, JUDGE.

         A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to her children. She contends the State failed to prove the grounds for termination by clear and convincing evidence and termination is not in the children's best interests. She asks for additional time to have the children returned to her care. We review these claims de novo. See In re A.M., 843 N.W.2d 100, 110 (Iowa 2014).

         The children came to the attention of the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) after a July 2017 search led police to discover over one pound of methamphetamine in the father's home, in which the children were present. The mother, who lives in Alaska, had not seen the children since early 2016. She has lengthy drug-abuse and criminal histories. Initially, her whereabouts were unknown. She contacted the DHS after the juvenile court adjudicated the children to be in need of assistance. At the time, the mother was on parole, but she was incarcerated shortly thereafter for violating the terms of her release. She remained incarcerated at the time of the termination hearing.

         In order to terminate parental rights, the juvenile court must first find clear and convincing evidence supporting a ground for termination listed under Iowa Code section 232.116(1) (2017). See In re D.W., 791 N.W.2d 703, 706 (Iowa 2010). Although the juvenile court found the State proved three grounds for terminating the mother's parental rights, we need only find grounds to terminate parental rights under one of the sections cited by the juvenile court to affirm. See In re S.R., 600 N.W.2d 63, 64 (Iowa Ct. App. 1999).

         The juvenile court's order terminates the mother's parental rights pursuant to paragraphs (a), (i), and (l) of Iowa Code section 232.116(1). The mother argues there is no evidence to support termination of her parental rights under paragraph (a) ("The parents voluntarily and intelligently consent to the termination of parental rights and the parent-child relationship and for good cause desire the termination.") and notes paragraph (a) was never pled in the termination petition.

         The State concedes termination is not appropriate under paragraph (a) but argues the juvenile court's citation to this paragraph was clerical error. We agree. The petition seeks to terminate the mother's parental rights under paragraph (b), not paragraph (a), and the court's analysis in the termination order shows it intended to terminate under paragraph (b). Specifically, the order states:

The court does find by clear and convincing evidence that [the mother] has abandoned her children . . . . [The mother] was unaware of the children's whereabouts for two years. She had not had contact with the children or [the father] for at least two years. [The mother] provided no financial aid to her children. She has provided no emotional care for her children. She made one to two calls to the [DHS] after learning of the children's removal. Her call came approximately five months after the children's removal. It is very likely that the children would not know her, especially [the youngest two], if she walked into a room where they were playing. Clearly, she has not worked to put herself in a place of importance or significance in these children's lives. The history would suggest that the children have never been in a place of importance and significance in [her] life either.

         Accordingly, we consider whether the State proved the grounds for terminating the mother's parental rights under paragraph (b). See In re Z.C., No. 17-0666, 2017 WL 1735913, at *2 (Iowa Ct. App. May 3, 2017) (finding the court's reference to paragraph (h) was "clearly a typographical error, which is harmless given our de novo review," and ...


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