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In re J.V.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

December 5, 2018

IN THE INTEREST OF J. V. and C.E., Minor Children, M.S., Father, Petitioner-Appellee, V. W., Mother Respondent-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Warren County, Kevin Parker, District Associate Judge.

         A mother appeals the juvenile court order terminating her parental rights in a private termination action. AFFIRMED.

          Colin McCormack of Van Cleaf & McCormack Law Firm, LLP, Des Moines, for appellant.

          Kenneth J. Weiland Jr. of Weiland Law Firm, Des Moines, for appellee. William E. Sales III of Sales Law Firm, P.C., Des Moines, guardian ad litem for minor children.

          Considered by Tabor, P.J., and Mullins and Bower, JJ.

          BOWER, JUDGE.

         A mother appeals the juvenile court order terminating her parental rights in a private termination action. We find the mother abandoned the children and termination is in the children's best interests. We affirm the juvenile court's termination of the mother's parental rights.

         I. Background Facts & Proceedings

         V.W. is the mother of J.V., born 2004, and C.E., born 2006. M.S. is the father of J.V. In 2011, both children were placed with the father through child in need of assistance (CINA) cases.[1] In 2012, the court ordered joint legal custody of J.V. and awarded sole physical care to the father, with the mother to pay child support. By stipulation of the parties, the mother's right to visitation was to be determined by J.V.'s counselor and then by the father when a counselor was no longer needed. In 2013, the CINA court appointed the father and his wife as guardians for C.E. The court at that time noted the mother's progress in substance-abuse treatment and the bond between the children and mother as reasons to not terminate the mother's parental rights. In July 2017, the father petitioned to terminate the mother's rights to both children under Iowa Code section 600A.8(3)(b) (2017).[2]

         From 2012 through 2015, the mother did not pay any child support for J.V. In 2016, the mother began making voluntary partial payments and the State garnished additional amounts from her paychecks. She has significant arrearages for J.V.'s child support. The mother has made no support payments for C.E. since the CINA case.

         The mother has not seen the children since February 2013. Around March 2014, the mother ceased any attempts to set up visitation with either child and has not contacted the father or the children's counselor since that time.[3] The same counselor treating the children throughout the CINA cases continues to see the children periodically. At the time of the hearing, the mother had not contacted the father to request or arrange visitation with the children in three and a half years. The mother testified she did not contact the counselor to arrange visitations because she "was afraid of what the outcome would be." She claims the father's wife blocked her family from sharing any information about the children with her. She testified she would love visitation with the children, but was not requesting it.

         At one point, the mother and the father's wife scheduled a time to discuss visitation, but the mother did not attend. The father did not proactively offer visitation to the mother. The father's wife provided schedules of the children's activities to the mother, who never attended. The mother's sister would occasionally see the children and talk with them on the phone. The mother did not send cards, letters, birthday or Christmas gifts, or contact the children's schools over that period of time. She claims to have provided some school supplies and clothes to the children through her sister's visits, but instructed her sister to not allow the father to know she contributed to them. She also stated she had written letters to the children but did not send them in case the father did not pass them on to the children or returned them.

         The father has not moved residences since the children moved in and has not changed his phone number. The children remained with the same counselor, who did not change locations over the entire period until her company merged with another just a few months prior to the hearing. The mother admitted having worked with and visited the counselor during the CINA proceedings and having her contact information at that time.

         The juvenile court ruled the mother had abandoned the children and termination of her parental rights is in the ...


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