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In re L.C.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

August 21, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF L.C. and K.C, Minor Children, E.C., Mother, Appellant, S.E., Father, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Pottawattamie County, Scott Strait, District Associate Judge.

         A mother and father separately appeal the termination of their parental rights to two children.

          Anne M. Rohling of Rohling Law, PLLC, Council Bluffs, for appellant mother. Kyle J. McGinn of McGinn, Springer & Noethe, Council Bluffs, for appellant father.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Anagha Dixit, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.

          Marti Nerenstone, Council Bluffs, guardian ad litem for minor children.

          Considered by Tabor, P.J., and Mullins and May, JJ.

          TABOR, Presiding Judge.

         This appeal affects two children: L.C., age one, and K.C., who is almost three. In June 2019, the juvenile court terminated their legal relationships with their parents, Emilee and Shawn. The court was most concerned about Shawn's acts of domestic violence against Emilee and Emilee's dishonesty about maintaining their toxic relationship. Both parents separately appeal. Emilee contends the State failed to prove a statutory ground for termination. Shawn concedes the State met its burden in his case but asks for "more time to get his life in order." In its termination order, the juvenile court found L.C. and K.C. could not be safely reunited with either parent now or "in the foreseeable future." After independently reviewing the record, [1] we arrive at the same conclusion.

         Shawn's physical abuse of Emilee drew the attention of the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) in June 2017. Police arrested Shawn for assaulting Emilee in a motel room while eight-month-old K.C. sat nearby on the bed. The violence prompted the juvenile court to issue a temporary removal order placing K.C. in the care of an aunt. That order directed Shawn to complete the Iowa Domestic Abuse Program (IDAP). Despite a criminal no-contact order, Shawn continued to interact with Emilee. In November 2017, Shawn again assaulted Emilee, knocking her unconscious.

         A month after that assault, the court adjudicated K.C. as a child in need of assistance (CINA). See Iowa Code § 232.2(6)(b), (c)(2), and (n) (2017). The adjudication order noted Emilee was pregnant, though she "wavered" when asked if Shawn was the father. Shawn went to jail for a probation violation in February 2018. And Emilee continued to lie to social workers about her ongoing relationship with Shawn during early 2018, according to the juvenile court findings.

         L.C. was born in April 2018. A paternity test verified Shawn was L.C.'s father. Because of the parents' ongoing instability, the juvenile court adjudicated L.C. as a CINA when he was just one month old. In that adjudication order, the juvenile court set out clear expectations for the parents: both parents were to obtain suitable housing, complete a parenting class, and abide by the no-contact order. The court directed Emilee to participate in Catholic Charities programming as the DHS recommended.[2] Finally, the court ordered Shawn to complete mental-health and substance-abuse evaluations and participate in IDAP. The DHS placed L.C. and K.C. with the same foster parents in May 2018.

         During the following summer and fall, the parents made little progress in meeting the court's expectations. Neither parent maintained suitable housing. Emilee completed a program for domestic-violence survivors called Journey Beyond Abuse-but she did so while maintaining she had no ongoing relationship with Shawn. Meanwhile, county records revealed Emilee and Shawn had regular telephone contact while Shawn was in jail. In October, a deputy stopped Emilee for driving with a suspended license and discovered Shawn in the car. Shawn lied about his name because of the no-contact order. Shawn again went to jail when the deputy determined his identity.

         Like Shawn, Emilee ran into some criminal trouble. In early December 2018, police arrested her for burglary, criminal mischief, and assault after she tried to break out the window of Shawn's car and threw soda on his new girlfriend. Later that month, police charged her with animal neglect after finding a deceased dog and other malnourished pets at the farm where she was living.

         In December 2018, the State petitioned to terminate both Emilee and Shawn's parental rights. In the wake of the petition, Emilee told her Family Safety, Risk, and Permanency (FSRP) worker she was "not ready to fight for her children." At a January 2019 hearing, Emilee consented to termination of her parental rights. In February, the FSRP set up a goodbye visit for Emilee and the children. But, when the judge realized he had a ...

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