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In re Z.M.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

March 6, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF Z.M., Minor Child, S.M., Custodian, Petitioner-Appellee,
v.
C.M.-G., Mother, Respondent-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Paul D. Scott, Judge.

         The biological mother appeals the juvenile court's termination of her parental rights in a private termination action.

          Chira L. Corwin of Corwin Law Firm, Des Moines, for appellant mother.

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

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

          Heard by Potterfield, P.J., and Tabor and McDonald, JJ.

          POTTERFIELD, PRESIDING JUDGE.

         C.M.-G., appeals the juvenile court's termination of her parental rights to her biological child, Z.M., in a private termination action. The juvenile court terminated C.M.-G.'s parental rights pursuant to Iowa Code section 600A.8(1) (2017), which allows the court to terminate when the parent signed a release of custody and the release has not been revoked.[1] C.M.-G maintains she revoked her release of custody within the ninety-six hours contemplated by the statute. See Iowa Code § 600A.4(4) ("[A] parent who has signed a release of custody . . . may, at any time prior to the entry of an order terminating parental rights, request the juvenile court . . . to order the revocation of any release of custody previously executed by either parent. If such request is by a signing parent, and is within ninety-six hours of the time such parent signed a release of custody, the juvenile court shall order the release revoked."). Alternatively, she maintains the juvenile court should have allowed her to revoke the release after the ninety-six hours elapsed because she established good cause for the revocation. She contends she demonstrated good cause because (1) the release was obtained by fraud, coercion, or misrepresentation of law or fact and (2) she did not understand the release at the time she signed it.[2] Finally, C.M.-G argues the court should not have granted the petition to terminate her parental rights because it is not in Z.M.'s best interests.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

         C.M.-G is the biological mother of Z.M. She is also the biological mother of three other children, who remain in her care. When C.M.-G. first learned she was pregnant with Z.M.-in the fall of 2016-C.M.-G reached out to D.M. and his wife, E.M., indicating she would need help with the child after the birth. D.M. is C.M.-G's adoptive brother, but the two characterize their relationship as one more typical of an uncle and a niece due to the difference in their ages.

         According to D.M., at the time C.M.-G. first indicated she would need help after the baby was born, he indicated a willingness to help her like he does with her other three children-often caring for them on weekends or helping to provide for their financial needs. Otherwise, D.M. made it clear to C.M.-G. that he and E.M. were not interested in caring for the child in their home for an extended period of time unless they were allowed to adopt the child.

         D.M. and C.M.-G did not speak of adoption again until after C.M.-G. gave birth in June 2017. C.M.-G. called D.M. and E.M. from the hospital and again asked for their help. Then, after she and Z.M. were discharged, she called D.M. and asked him to pick up Z.M. to take the child to his home. D.M. and E.M. took the child, and they have continued to care for her since that time.

         On July 18, E.M., D.M., C.M.-G, and C.M.-G.'s husband went to the law office of Shayla McCormally-E.M. and D.M.'s lawyer-in order for C.M.-G. and C.M.-G's husband to sign releases of custody. C.M.-G was told that McCormally was not her attorney. The four were at the office approximately two hours before C.M.-G. signed the release of custody. The release provides in part, in bold and capital letters:

I have been informed that as a person signing the release of custody I may petition the juvenile court in Polk County, Iowa within 96 hours after signing this release of custody, in which case the juvenile court must order this release revoked. I have also been informed that after 96 hours the juvenile court may order the release revoked only upon clear and convincing evidence that good cause exists for such revocation. I have been informed that good cause for revocation includes but is not limited to a showing that this release of custody was obtained by fraud, coercion or misrepresentation of law or fact which was material to its execution.

         C.M.-G. called McCormally a number of times on the day before the ninety-six-hour window expired. At least once, she told McCormally she did not want to go through with the release of custody and ultimately the adoption. However, either later in the same call or in another call to the attorney, C.M.-G reported that she had changed her mind again and wanted to leave the release intact. In response to her calls, McCormally reminded C.M.-G. she was not her attorney, advised her to contact an attorney, and told her that if she wanted to revoke the release of custody, she needed to contact the juvenile court in ...


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