from the Iowa District Court for Floyd County, Karen Kaufman
Salic, District Associate Judge.
mother appeals the district court's denial of her
petition to terminate the incarcerated father's parental
O'Donohoe of Elwood, O'Donohoe, Braun, White, LLP,
Charles City, for appellant mother.
Danielle M. DeBower of Eggert, Erb, Kuehner & DeBower,
P.L.C., Charles City, for appellee father.
Troge, Charles City, guardian ad litem for minor child.
by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Potterfield and Tabor, JJ.
the mother of three-year-old B.A., appeals a juvenile court
order denying her petition to terminate the parental rights
of B.A.'s father, Mark, under Iowa Code chapter 600A
(2017). Jordan contends the juvenile court incorrectly
concluded termination of Mark's parental rights is not in
B.A.'s best interests, even though Mark is incarcerated
in another state and will not be released until 2024, has a
long history of substance abuse, and was found to have
abandoned B.A. Mark defends the order, arguing B.A. should
have a chance to know his father.
Jordan did not carry her burden of proving termination is in
B.A.'s best interests. As the juvenile court concluded,
Mark has been addressing his addiction and improving his work
and parenting skills while in prison. We are not prepared to
dismiss the possibility he will be a positive influence in
B.A.'s life-it is in B.A.'s best interests to
preserve the relationship, even if Mark cannot assume
caretaking duties immediately after being released from
Facts and Prior Proceedings
B.A.'s parents struggled with substance-abuse issues.
Mark grew up in a household where both his parents used
drugs; he began abusing drugs himself at a young age. From
about the age of fifteen, he drank alcohol regularly. He also
admitted being a daily methamphetamine and marijuana user.
Jordan also has a troubled past with substance abuse. After
graduating from high school, she worked as a certified
nursing assistant, but she developed an addiction to
prescription pills. With the help of her parents, she entered
two drug-treatment programs and was able to quit. She and
Mark met at a party in 2013 and she soon began using
methamphetamine with him. She quit shortly before getting
pregnant with B.A. in October 2013.
initially excited about becoming a father, Mark was not
particularly supportive during the pregnancy: he did not
assist financially with Jordan's health care though he
was employed at a cleaning company and earning around $1000
per month. He attended just two prenatal appointments. Mark
continued abusing drugs throughout Jordan's pregnancy. He
also later confessed to distributing drugs during this
period. Jordan lived in Charles City with her parents while
Mark lived in Mason City. Mark does not have a valid
driver's license and had to get rides from friends and
April 2014, Jordan went into labor at twenty-eight weeks, and
B.A. was born in Charles City. He was immediately transferred
to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Mayo Clinic in
Rochester, Minnesota. Mark traveled to Rochester with
Jordan's parents. Jordan joined B.A. there after she was
discharged from the Charles City hospital. B.A. was in the
NICU for nine weeks. Jordan remained with him the whole time.
Mark visited somewhere between two and six times. Mark
testified he was unable to see his son more often because he
had to work.
B.A. was discharged, it was with explicit instruction he not
be exposed to any smoke due to his prematurity and related
respiratory illnesses. He had regular home-health nurse
visits to check on his breathing. Jordan returned to her
parents' home with B.A. Eventually, she resumed work and
found her own apartment where she now lives with B.A.
took little initiative to see B.A. after he came home from
the hospital. Meetings between Mark and B.A. were arranged
almost exclusively by Jordan. Jordan offered to bring B.A. to
Mason City where Mark lived and invited Mark to visit him at
her parents' house in Charles City. Mark visited a
handful of times. The minimal visitation was at least
partially attributable to Mark's lack of a driver's
license. Mark also testified he continued to engage in
methamphetamine distribution activities, which led to his
federal felony conviction.
provided little financial assistance and attended none of
B.A.'s doctor appointments. Mark was not involved in any
of B.A.'s specialized medical care resulting from his
prematurity. Jordan testified Mark gave her a few packages of
diapers and about one hundred dollars when he got a tax
refund. Mark testified to providing some support, but
admitted after he paid his own expenses, it was only
"little bits of money" that "might not have
amounted up to a lot." He estimated he contributed about
Mark was aware B.A. could not be exposed to cigarette smoke,
even the residue on clothing, he continued to smoke and
smelled of smoke when he visited B.A. Jordan suspected he was
still using marijuana. Jordan offered to bring B.A. for
visits at Mark's apartment on weekends. During these
visits, Mark occasionally pitched in to help in B.A.'s
care, feeding and changing him and letting Jordan sleep in.
This pattern of visits went on until December 2014 when
Jordan and Mark broke up for good. After their breakup, Mark
did attempt to have some contact with B.A. Jordan brought
B.A. to Mark's apartment in Mason City for a few hours on
weekends. But eventually those visits lessened and then
were also sparse in 2015. Once in March, Jordan went to
Mark's apartment only to find it reeking of cigarette
smoke and occupied by a strange man. She left. Mark attended
Jordan's first birthday party in April. On Father's
Day, Jordan arranged for Mark to visit B.A. at her
parents' house. He arrived late and appeared to be under
the influence of a substance, so Jordan asked him to leave.
in July 2015, Jordan arranged for Mark to make an
early-afternoon visit. But he called to say he had fallen
asleep. He wanted to come over then, but it was after 6 p.m.,
and Jordan had plans. Jordan testified Mark threatened to
come to her apartment and kill himself on her steps. Jordan
called law enforcement to check on Mark, but they released
him without any further action. On another occasion, Mark
threatened to crash into Jordan's car and "blow his
2015 was the last time Mark saw B.A. Mark testified he kept
asking Jordan to see B.A., but she would not let him. In
November 2016, Jordan learned through a newspaper article
that Mark had been detained on federal drug charges. Mark was
sentenced at the end of 2016 to 121 months in federal prison
and incarcerated in Fort Worth, Texas. He will not be
released until fall 2024, when B.A. will be ten years old.
Jordan testified that while he was incarcerated, Mark sent a
few letters and called her a few times-in December 2015, in
April 2016 for B.A.'s birthday, and in May 2016. Mark
sent B.A. birthday cards in 2015 and 2016. He also sent B.A.
recalled more expansive attempts at communication, testifying
he wrote letters in December 2015; February, April, July,
August, September, November, and December 2016; and March and
July 2017. Mark testified he sent some letters to
Jordan's parents because she had been living with them,
but Jordan's mother testified they received only one
letter at their address, in January 2016. He also testified
he had called on several occasions. Jordan said she did not
accept many of his calls because she was working. He has not
made financial contributions to B.A.'s care since being
in prison. Jordan testified Mark did not update her with
information about where he was incarcerated or how to contact
him. He did not inform her whether it was possible to set up
phone calls or video conversations with B.A.
began a new romantic relationship in May 2016. She offered
into evidence photographs of B.A. enjoying activities with
her boyfriend, Walker. In September 2017, Jordan gave birth
to B.A.'s half-brother, R.J., who is Walker's child.
Jordan testified she and Walker are not married or living
together and have not talked about taking those steps. Walker
is a farmer and ...