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In re J.M.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

January 23, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF J.M., B.M., and L.M., Minor Children, K.N., Mother, Appellant, J.M., Father, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Story County, Stephen A. Owen, District Associate Judge.

         A mother and father separately appeal the termination of parental rights.

          Daniela Matasovic of Matasovic Law Firm, Ames, for appellant mother. Patrick C. Peters of Payer, Hunziker, Rhodes & Peters, LLP, Ames, for appellant father.

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

          Shannon M. Leighty of Public Defender's Office, Nevada, guardian ad litem for minor children.

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

          DOYLE, JUDGE.

         J.M. is the father and K.N. is the mother of L.M., B.M., and J.M., born in 2013, 2014, and 2017, respectively. Following a trial, the juvenile court terminated the parents' parental rights, and each parent now appeals the court's order. Upon our de novo review of the record, we affirm.

         I. Standard of Review and Statutory Framework.

         Parental rights may be terminated under Iowa Code chapter 232 (2018) if the following three conditions are true: (1) a "ground for termination under section 232.116(1) has been established" by clear and convincing evidence, (2) "the best-interest framework as laid out in section 232.116(2) supports the termination of parental rights," and (3) none of the "exceptions in section 232.116(3) apply to preclude termination of parental rights." In re A.S., 906 N.W.2d 467, 472-73 (Iowa 2018). Our review is de novo, which means we give the juvenile court's findings of fact weight, especially the court's credibility assessments, but we are not bound by those findings. See id. at 472. "For evidence to be 'clear and convincing,' it is merely necessary that there be no serious or substantial doubt about the correctness of the conclusion drawn from it." Raim v. Stancel, 339 N.W.2d 621, 624 (Iowa Ct. App. 1983); see also In re M.W., 876 N.W.2d 212, 219 (Iowa 2016). Our fundamental concern is the children's best interests. See In re K.N., 625 N.W.2d 731, 733 (Iowa 2001).

         II. Background Facts and Proceedings.

The parents and children came to the attention of the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) in February 2017 when the mother visited the hospital and tested positive for methamphetamine (meth). The State also alleged that both parents cared for the two older children while under the influence of meth. Shortly thereafter, the mother gave birth to the youngest of the three children and both she and the child tested positive for meth. The mother also tested positive for amphetamines and opiates. In March, the parents stipulated to removal and the children were adjudicated children in need of assistance (CINA).

In re J.M., No. 17-2073, 2018 WL 1182544, at *1 (Iowa Ct. App. Mar. 7, 2018).

         Services were offered to the family, and the parents were given multiple opportunities to put their children first and obtain and maintain sobriety. See id. at *1-6. Nevertheless, the parents' progress was minimal until the juvenile court directed the State to file petitions for termination of each parents' parental rights. See id. Following the November 2017 termination-of-parental-rights hearing, the court entered its order the following month denying the termination petitions. See id. Although the court found the State proved one of the grounds for termination, the court concluded the children's best interests were served by granting the parents six additional months to work toward reunification, stating:

[B]oth the mother and father have now experienced the longest period of sobriety known to this court. The mother has been sober for approximately two months. The father has been sober for just over four months and has been provided mental health therapy and medication. Both parents have sought the assistance of supportive relatives to assist them in continuing sobriety. Both parents have reasonable and credible plans for their future. [The father] acknowledges the codependent relationship between himself and [the ...

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