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In re of B.M.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

August 21, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF B.M., K.M., and R.M., Minor Children, B.M., Father, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Rachael E. Seymour, District Associate Judge.

         A father appeals the termination of his parental rights to his children.

          Colin McCormack of Van Cleaf & McCormack Law Firm, LLP, Des Moines, for appellant father.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Anna T. Stoeffler, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.

          Brent Pattison of Drake Legal Clinic, Des Moines, guardian ad litem for minor children.

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

          DOYLE, Judge.

         The three children at issue came to the attention of the juvenile court because of concerns about domestic violence and substance abuse in the home. The juvenile court removed the children from the home in January 2018 and adjudicated them to be children in need of assistance the next month. Because the parents did not make reasonable effort to resume custody of the children in the year that followed, the State petitioned to terminate both the mother's and the father's parental rights. In May 2019, the juvenile court entered its order terminating both parents' rights under Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(e), (f), and (h) (2019).

         The father appeals the termination of his parental rights.[1] Chapter 232 provides a three-step analysis for terminating parental rights. In re D.W., 791 N.W.2d 703, 706 (Iowa 2010).

First, the court must determine if a ground for termination under section 232.116(1) has been established. If a ground for termination is established, the court must, secondly, apply the best-interest framework set out in section 232.116(2) to decide if the grounds for termination should result in a termination of parental rights. Third, if the statutory best-interest framework supports termination of parental rights, the court must consider if any statutory exceptions set out in section 232.116(3) should serve to preclude termination of parental rights.

Id. at 706-07 (internal citations omitted). We need not review any step of the three-step analysis the juvenile court must make in terminating a parent's parental rights if the step was not challenged by the parent on appeal. See In re P.L., 778 N.W.2d 33, 40 (Iowa 2010).

         The father does not dispute that the State proved the grounds for terminating his parental rights. Instead, he challenges the second step of the termination analysis, arguing termination is not in the children's best interests. He claims that terminating his parental rights goes against the children's best interests because of the "substantial bond" he has with the children.[2]

         We review the decision to terminate parental rights de novo. See A.S., 906 N.W.2d at 472. Although the factual findings of the juvenile court are not binding, we do give them weight, especially in assessing witness credibility. See id. In making the "best interests" determination, our primary considerations are "the child's safety," "the best placement for furthering the long-term nurturing and growth of the child," and "the physical, mental, and emotional condition and needs of the child." In re P.L., 778 N.W.2d 33, 37 (Iowa 2010) (quoting Iowa Code § 232.116(2)). The "defining elements in a child's best interest" are the child's safety and "need for a permanent home." In re H.S., 805 N.W.2d 737, 748 (Iowa 2011) (citation omitted).

         In addressing the children's best interests, the juvenile court noted the parents' failure to engage meaningfully with the "extensive" services offered by the State and that they "made no progress towards becoming safe and sober parents who can meet these children's needs." It further found no evidence to support a finding that terminating parental rights would be detrimental because of the closeness of the parent-child relationship. Rather, the ...


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