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In re R.M.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

September 11, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF R.M., E.M., K.M., C.M., E.M., and L.M., Minor Children, C.M., Mother, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Cass County, Amy Zacharias, Judge.

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

          Donna K. Bothwell of Bothwell Law Office, Logan, for appellant mother.

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

          Karen L. Mailander of Mailander Law, PLC, Anita, guardian ad litem for minor children.

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

          DOYLE, JUDGE.

         This appeal concerns the termination of a mother's parental rights to six children. Under Iowa Code chapter 232 (2018), the court must engage in this three-step analysis to terminate parental rights:

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.

In re D.W., 791 N.W.2d 703, 706-07 (Iowa 2010) (internal citations omitted). Seeking reversal of the order terminating her parental rights, the mother challenges the evidence supporting the juvenile court's findings at each step of this analysis and also contends the State failed to make reasonable efforts to return the children to her care. In the alternative, she requests an additional three to six months to reunify with her children.

         We review the decision to terminate parental rights de novo. See In re A.S., 906 N.W.2d 467, 472 (Iowa 2018). Although the factual findings of the juvenile court are not binding, we do give them weight, especially in assessing witness credibility. See id.

         I. Statutory Grounds.

         The mother first contends the State failed to prove the grounds for termination by clear and convincing evidence. The juvenile court terminated the mother's parental rights under Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(d), (f), (h), and (i). We may affirm if clear and convincing evidence supports one of the grounds for termination. See In re T.S., 868 N.W.2d 425, 435 (Iowa Ct. App. 2015).

         The requirements for terminating parental rights under section 232.116(1) (f) and (h) differ on the length of the child's removal from the parent's care based on the age of the child. But both require clear and convincing evidence that returning the child to the parent's care at the time of the termination hearing would expose the child to harm that would lead to a child-in-need-of-assistance (CINA) adjudication. See Iowa Code § 232.116(1)(f)(4), (1)(h)(4) (each requiring "clear and convincing evidence that at the present time the child cannot be returned to the custody of the child's parents as provided in section 232.102"); D.W., 791 N.W.2d at 707 (interpreting the term "at the present time" to mean "at the time of the termination hearing"); In re M.S., 889 N.W.2d 675, 680 (Iowa Ct. App. 2016) ("[A] child cannot be returned to the custody of the child's parent under section 232.102 if by doing so the ...


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