Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

In re L.M.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

June 5, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF L.M., C.K., and J.T., Minor Children, S.M., Mother, Appellant.

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

         A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to three children. AFFIRMED.

          Julie A. Forsyth of Forsyth Law Office, P.L.L.C., Winterset, for appellant mother.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Kathryn K. Lang, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.

          M. Kathryn Miller, Des Moines, attorney and guardian ad litem for minor children.

          Considered by Vogel, C.J., and Vaitheswaran and Tabor, JJ.

          TABOR, JUDGE.

         A mother, Suzanne, challenges the termination of her parental rights to three children-eleven-year-old J.T., eight-year-old C.K., and five-year-old L.M. On appeal, she raises three claims: (1) termination is not in the children's best interests under Iowa Code section 232.116(2) (2018); (2) the juvenile court should have declined to terminate under section 232.116(3) because of the closeness of the parent-child relationship and because the children were in the legal custody of relatives; and (3) the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) did not provide reasonable reunification services because of the high level of turnover among the caseworkers assigned to the family.

         After independently reviewing the record, [1] our conclusions mirror those of the juvenile court. Termination of Suzanne's parental rights serves the best interests of all three children. Neither the parent-child bonds nor the relative placements preclude termination. And while the rapid exodus of social workers was less than ideal for this family, it did not prevent the DHS from making reasonable efforts toward reunification.

         Suzanne's methamphetamine use has resulted in the continued removal of the children from her care. They have been out of the home since March 2017. The DHS placed the oldest child, J.T., with his paternal aunt, where he would like to stay. C.K. and L.M. are living with their respective fathers. As the termination ruling explained, Suzanne has been "in and out" of treatment throughout the case. She twice enrolled in in-patient treatment at the House of Mercy without success. She also has "shown very little consistency in visitation." She was in jail at the time of the hearing, awaiting trial on a charge of operating a vehicle without the owner's consent. The juvenile court terminated her parental rights under Iowa Code section 232.116(1), paragraphs (f) and (l).

         On appeal, Suzanne does not challenge the State's proof for those statutory grounds. Instead, she argues termination is not in the children's best interests and two exceptions weigh against ending their relationships. See Iowa Code § 232.116(2), (3)(a), (3)(c).

         Our analysis starts with best interests; our determination must track the factors in section 232.116(2). See In re P.L., 778 N.W.2d 33, 40 (Iowa 2010) (rejecting use of an unstructured best-interests test). That provision focuses on the children's safety; the best placement for furthering their long-term nurturing and growth; and their physical, mental, and emotional condition and needs. See Iowa Code § 232.116(2).

         Suzanne recalls, before the DHS became involved with her family, she was "the consistent, single parent who provided for the children." By contrast, the children's fathers had little direct involvement.[2] But any history of positive caretaking by the mother does not insulate the children from her current methamphetamine addiction. A parent's serious, unresolved substance-abuse problem may prevent her from exercising the caretaking necessary to assure the children's safety. In re J.K., 495 N.W.2d 108, 113 (Iowa 1993).

         Suzanne also argues it is not in the best interest of these half-siblings to be in three different homes. It is true our courts prefer keeping siblings together. In re A.M.S., 419 N.W.2d 723, 734 (Iowa 1988) ("[S]iblings should not be separated without good and compelling reasons."). But this preference is not absolute-it must yield to the best interests of the children. In re J.E., 723 N.W.2d 793, 800 (Iowa 2006). The existing placements-while separating the half siblings-provide each individual child with the optimal kinship connections. Moreover, the ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.