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In re O.C.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

November 7, 2018

IN THE INTEREST OF O.C., Minor Child, S.L., Mother, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Benton County, Barbara H. Liesveld, District Associate Judge.

         A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights.

          Melody J. Butz of Butz Law Offices, PC, Center Point, for appellant mother.

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

          Judith Jennings Hoover of Hoover Law Office, P.C., Cedar Rapids, guardian ad litem for minor child.

          Considered by Danilson, C.J., and Potterfield and Doyle, JJ.

          DOYLE, JUDGE

         A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to O.C., born in 2014.[1] She argues: (1) reasonable efforts under Iowa Code section 232.102(7) (2018) to return the child to her home were not made, and (2) termination is not in the best interests of the child.

         The child was removed from her mother's care in June 2017 due to the mother's use of methamphetamine while caring for the child. The child was adjudicated as a child in need of assistance (CINA) the same month. Due to the mother's ongoing issues with substance abuse and inconsistency in attending visitation, a petition to terminate parental rights was filed in May 2018, and trial was held on July 10, 2018. Thereafter, the juvenile court concluded the State proved by clear and convincing evidence that the mother's parental rights to the child should be terminated pursuant to sections 232.116(1)(h) and (l). The court also concluded termination is in the best interests of the child and that none of the exceptions under section 232.116(3) applied. The mother appeals.[2]

         Termination of parental rights under Iowa Code chapter 232 follows a three-step analysis. See In re P.L., 778 N.W.2d 33, 40-41 (Iowa 2010). First, the court must determine if a ground authorizing the termination of parental rights under section 232.116(1) has been established. See id. at 40. Second, if a ground for termination is established, the court must apply the framework set forth in section 232.116(2) to decide if proceeding with termination is in the best interests of the child. See id. Third, if the statutory best-interests framework supports termination of parental rights, the court must consider if any statutory exceptions set forth in section 232.116(3) should serve to preclude termination. See id. at 41. The exceptions set forth in subsection three are permissive and not mandatory. See In re A.M., 843 N.W.2d 100, 113 (Iowa 2014).

         The mother does not challenge the State's establishment of the statutory grounds for termination, nor does she suggest any statutory exception applies to preclude termination, so we need not discuss these steps in our analysis. See P.L., 778 N.W.2d at 40. Instead, she contends the State failed to make reasonable efforts under section 232.102(7) to provide visitation with the child, and that termination is not in the child's best interests. In passing, and without argument, she also suggests she should have been granted a six-month extension. The mother has not preserved error with respect to any issue raised in this appeal, or she has waived any challenge to the termination of her parental rights. "[T]he general rule that appellate arguments must first be raised in the trial court applies to . . . termination of parental rights cases." In re A.B., 815 N.W.2d 764, 773 (Iowa 2012). The mother was present at the beginning of the termination trial. Prior to the taking of testimony, the mother's counsel stated:

[The mother] has made the very difficult decision-she is not in agreement with termination of [the child]'s rights but does not intend to put on any evidence in resistance to the State's Petition. She would request that the adoptive family, that they not change [the child]'s last name and that is the last name of her deceased father. And while she would prefer guardianship for [the child], she understands that given her young age that adoption is likely. And at this time, Your Honor, she would ask to be excused.

         The court responded to the mother that "it's always difficult to place the interests of your children ahead of your own so I appreciate the difficulty of the decision you're making today. And if you wish to be excused, you may." The mother then left the courtroom. She did not challenge the State's evidence, and she did not testify. She offered one exhibit showing she had completed substance-abuse treatment. She made no complaint about lack of reasonable efforts regarding visitation. She did not ask for a six-month extension. The mother's counsel made no closing argument. The mother's failure to challenge the termination of her parental rights in the juvenile court constitutes the failure to preserve error and/or waiver. See In re A.W., No. 18-0094, 2018 WL 1182618, at *1 (Iowa Ct. App. Mar. 7, 2018) (collecting cases).

         Even if the mother had preserved error or not waived her claims, her claims on appeal are unavailing. We review termination proceedings de novo. See A.M., 843 N.W.2d at 110. We are not bound by the juvenile court's findings of fact, although we ...


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