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In re Guardianship of I.P.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

May 15, 2019

IN THE MATTER OF THE GUARDIANSHIP OF I.P. and K.P.,
v.
D.K., Respondent-Appellee. R.G., Petitioner-Appellant,

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Marshall County, James C. Ellefson, Judge.

         A grandmother appeals the dismissal of her petitions for guardianship of her two grandchildren.

          Melissa A. Nine of Nine Law Office, Marshalltown, for appellant.

          Scott D. Fisher, Waukee, for appellee.

          Considered by Doyle, P.J., Mullins, J., and Gamble, S.J. [*]

          GAMBLE, Senior Judge.

         Rhonda Gonzalez appeals the dismissal of her petitions for guardianship of her two grandsons, I.P. and K.P. On appeal, Gonzalez argues the district court erred in dismissing her petitions because it did not consider the best interests of the children at issue. Gonzalez also requests appellate attorney fees.

         I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

         Gonzalez is the maternal grandmother of I.P. and K.P., ages nine and seven respectively at the time of trial. Because the children's parents largely rejected their parental duties, the children have lived with Gonzalez since birth, along with their half-sister and cousin. The children's mother, Brynn Price, has also lived with Gonzalez and the children intermittently, though Gonzalez remained the children's primary caregiver. David Kelly is the children's father. He has had limited contact with the children, though in recent years he made more of an effort to visit with the children. Kelly cared for the children roughly nine weekends over the course of their lives. There is no decree establishing custody, care, and visitation of the children between Price and Kelly.

         Both I.P. and K.P. have behavioral challenges. These are amplified when either parent comes in and out of the children's lives. This is because whenever the boys' schedule and routine are disrupted in some way, they react and "start to have meltdowns." This results in them becoming defiant and agitated, and they refuse to listen to instruction or participate in group activity. Beyond these general changes in behavior, both children's history reveals specific examples of troubling behavior. For example, I.P. has threatened Gonzalez with a knife, requiring Gonzalez to secure all household knives with a lock and develop a safety plan should I.P. act out in this manner again. He also tried to set his daycare bathroom on fire when he was four. K.P. once tried to jump out of Gonzalez's car.

         Both children take various medications under the supervision of a doctor to regulate their behavior. When the children take their medication as prescribed, it helps them manage their behavior but does not eliminate their problematic behavior. They also visit with a therapist weekly and a behavioral health intervention services (BHIS) provider weekly and have done this for several years. Gonzalez arranged for the children to receive this care.

         In late August 2017, Kelly informed Gonzalez he was ready to care for the children and would send for them shortly. As a result, Gonzalez petitioned for an involuntary guardianship of both children. Price did not object to the guardianship, but Kelly objected. Gonzalez also sought and received an emergency temporary guardianship and a temporary injunction to prevent Kelly from removing the children from Gonzalez's home. The court also appointed a guardian ad litem to represent the children's best interest.

         By late September, Gonzalez and Kelly reached an agreement permitting Kelly to initiate graduated supervised visitation with the children supervised by YSS. This allowed Kelly to meet with the children for two to three hours at a time. Visitation summary notes from the YSS supervisor indicate the children were consistently happy to see Kelly during these visits and that Kelly interacted appropriately with the children.

         This case came to trial on March 1, 2018. At trial, several witnesses testified in support of establishing the guardianships. These witnesses include: Gonzalez; Price; Julie Vincent, a teacher at the children's school; Melinda Beard, director of the children's afterschool daycare; Sarah Story, the BHIS provider; and Kylie Price, Gonzalez's daughter. Kelly; Rhonda Moore-Hunter, Kelly's girlfriend; and Janey Taylor, Kelly's mother, testified on behalf of Kelly. Price presented no evidence. The guardian ad litem's report recommended the court grant the petitions for guardianship. However, the court found Kelly to be a ...


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