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In re K.J.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

July 3, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF K.J. and K.S., Minor Children, A.S., Mother, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Plymouth County, Andrew Smith, District Associate Judge.

         A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights.

          Jessica R. Noll of Deck Law PLC, Sioux City, for appellant mother.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Meredith L. Lamberti, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.

          Meret Thali of Juvenile Law Center, Sioux City, attorney and guardian ad litem for the children.

          Scott L. Bixenman of Murphy, Collins, Bixenman & McGill, P.L.C., Le Mars, for appellee father of K.J.

          Kevin J. Huyser, of Rensink, Pluim, Vogel & Huyser, Orange City, for appellee father of K.S.

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

          Doyle, Judge.

         A.S. appeals from an order terminating her parental rights in her children, K.J. and K.S.[1] She asserts the State failed to prove the grounds for termination found by the juvenile court and termination is not in the children's best interests. She also contends the juvenile court should have granted her six more months to work toward reunification. Our review is de novo. See In re L.T., 924 N.W.2d 521, 526 (Iowa 2019).

         Under Iowa Code chapter 232 (2018), parental rights may be terminated 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). The juvenile court can also defer termination of parental rights if "specific factors, conditions, or expected behavioral changes" lead the court to "determin[e] that the need for removal of the child from the child's home will no longer exist at the end of [an] additional six-month period." Iowa Code § 232.104(2)(b). In determining whether termination of parental rights is in a child's best interests, we give "primary consideration to the child's safety, to the best placement for furthering the long-term nurturing and growth of the child, and to the physical, mental, and emotional condition and needs of the child." Id. § 232.116(2).

         The juvenile court terminated the mother's parental rights under Iowa Code section 232.116(1) paragraphs (d), (i), (l) for both children, (f) for K.J., and (h) for K.S. "When the juvenile court terminates parental rights on more than one statutory ground, we may affirm the juvenile court's order on any ground we find supported by the record." In re A.B., 815 N.W.2d 764, 774 (Iowa 2012). We focus on paragraphs (f) and (h), which allow the court to terminate parental rights if a child of a specified age has been adjudicated child in need of assistance, has been out of the parent's custody for the requisite time, and cannot be returned to the parent at present without continued risk of adjudicatory harm.[2] Here, the mother does not dispute the State's proof concerning the elements of that section. Rather, because the children are in their fathers' custody, she argues the juvenile court should not have terminated her parental rights.

         Placement of the child in one parent's home does not preclude termination of the other parent's rights. See In re N.M., 491 N.W.2d 153, 155 (Iowa 1992); see also In re D.E.D., 476 N.W.2d 737, 740 (Iowa Ct. App. 1991) (affirming the termination of a mother's parental rights but reversing and remanding as to the father, who had not received adequate notice of the grounds for termination), overruled on other grounds by In re P.L., 778 N.W.2d 33, 39 (Iowa 2010). Though termination of parental rights "is an outcome of last resort," N.M., 491 N.W.2d at 155, "our fundamental concern is the best interests of the child." In re M.D., 921 N.W.2d 229, 232 (Iowa 2018). We recognize the children are in the custody of their respective fathers, who can keep the children safe. But the mother's argument fails to consider the harm the children have suffered because of the long-term, ongoing instability in their lives. See N.M., 491 N.W.2d at 155. Considering the children's safety, the best placement for furthering the long-term nurturing and growth of the children, and the children's physical, mental, and emotional condition and needs, we find termination of the mother's parental rights is in the children's best interests even though each child is in the custody of his and her father, and we cannot conclude the need for removal will no longer exist at the end of six more-month period.

         When this case began in October 2017, there were concerns about the mother's ability to parent the children safely. The application for removal reported that law enforcement officials had been ...


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