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In re J.S.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

July 3, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF J.S., Minor Child, J.S., Father, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Woodbury County, Stephanie Forker Parry, District Associate Judge.

         A father appeals the termination of his parental rights to his minor child.

          T. Cody Farrens of Farrens Law Firm, P.L.L.C., Sioux City, for appellant father.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Mary A. Triick, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.

          Tricia DeHarty, Sioux City, guardian ad litem for minor child.

          Marchelle M. Denker of Juvenile Law Center, Sioux City, attorney for minor child.

          Considered by Doyle, P.J., and Mullins and Bower, JJ.

          Mullins, Judge.

         A father appeals the termination of his parental rights to his minor child, born in 2014. He contends the State failed to make reasonable efforts at reunification, challenges the sufficiency of the evidence underlying the statutory grounds for termination cited by the juvenile court, and argues termination is not in the child's best interests.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         The child came to the attention of the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) in September 2017 as a result of supervision concerns regarding the mother.[1] The child was removed from the mother's care. At this time, the mother and child lived in Sioux City, and the father lived in Des Moines. The father had little involvement in the child's life up to this point. In October, the father filed a "motion for visitation," in which he argued "the lack of in-person visitation is preventing reasonable efforts toward [his] reunification with" the child. Attached to the motion was a letter the father's counsel sent to DHS three days earlier requesting visitation with the child in Sioux City and advisement of any concerns for his ability to ultimately have the child placed with him so he could address those concerns. The court ordered the motion to be considered at the time of the adjudication hearing in December. Meanwhile, DHS set up a visitation for the father in November, which the father attended.

         Also in November, the father filed a "motion for home study," requesting that his home be inspected and considered as a potential placement for the child. The court likewise ordered this motion to be considered at the time of the adjudication hearing. Shortly thereafter, DHS sent the father forms to complete to initiate a home study. In the accompanying letter, DHS stated, "If you continue to seek placement of [the child] please fill it out and send [it] back to me so the study can be completed." Ultimately, the father did not return the paperwork until the end of June 2018.

         Prior to the adjudication hearing, the father's counsel moved to withdraw, citing a breakdown in the attorney-client relationship. At the adjudication hearing, for which the father did not appear, the court granted the motion to withdraw and counsel's additional request that consideration of the father's motions for visitation and a home study be continued to the dispositional hearing in February 2018, if the father still wished to pursue them. The court adjudicated the child to be in need of assistance (CINA), confirmed the need for removal, and ordered continued placement in foster care, where the child was thriving. The court ordered that any visitation between the child and parents be left to the discretion of DHS and the child's attorney and guardian ad litem (GAL). The court also directed the father to communicate with DHS "to make his intentions known" and complete his social history form and return it to DHS. The father did not comply with either directive in the coming months.

         The father was unable to attend the dispositional hearing in February due to "inclement weather." Over objections by the State and GAL, the court ordered a continuance to allow the father to be personally present at the hearing. The hearing was rescheduled for roughly two weeks later. The father appeared telephonically at that hearing. According to the dispositional order, [2] the father agreed with the recommendations contained in the DHS case plan, which recommended custody of the child remain with DHS for placement in foster care and visitation be at the discretion of DHS, the child's attorney, and the GAL.[3] The court incorporated these recommendations into its dispositional order and additionally granted the father's motion for a home study. However, the father "reported to the court that he was waiting to secure a new apartment prior to moving forward with a home study." The court noted in its order that the father had not visited the child since November of 2017 and had no contact with ...


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