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In re D.M.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

September 25, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF D.M., T.G., T.G., L.G., and T.G., Minor Children, L.C., Mother, Appellant, T.G., Father, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Susan Cox, District Associate Judge.

         A mother and father appeal the termination of their parental rights to five minor children.

          Christopher R. Kemp of Kemp & Sease, Des Moines, (until withdrawal) and Deborah L. Johnson of Deborah L. Johnson Law Office PC, Altoona, for appellant mother.

          Agnes G. Warutere of Warutere Law Firm, PLLC, Ankeny, for appellant father.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Anna T. Stoeffler (until withdrawal) and Mary A. Triick, Assistant Attorneys General, for appellee State.

          Erin Mayfield of Youth Law Center, Des Moines, guardian ad litem for minor children.

          Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Potterfield and Greer, JJ.

          Greer, Judge.

         A mother and father separately appeal the termination of their parental rights to five minor children. On our review, we affirm.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

         The father, T.G., and the mother, L.C., are the parents of five minor children born in 2010, 2012, 2014, 2015, and 2017.[1] Since 2015, when one of the children was born with THC in his system, the family has been involved with the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS). Upon meeting the family, DHS noted additional concerns, including the parents' failure to enroll the oldest child in school, the family's unstable housing, warrants for the mother's arrest, and the father's drug and domestic-violence criminal history. Exposure to excessive violence in the familial home triggered significant reactive and aggressive behavior in the oldest four siblings. As a result, they required ongoing therapy throughout the proceedings leading to termination.

         Because of these ongoing issues, on February 4, 2016, the juvenile court removed the four oldest children from the home and placed them with the paternal grandmother. Following the removal, on March 8, all four children were adjudicated children in need of assistance (CINA). In October, the grandmother dropped the children off with the mother because she could no longer care for them. Despite the earlier removal, the juvenile court allowed the children to stay with the mother under DHS supervision.

         Multiple allegations of domestic abuse between the mother and father and the mother and her new paramour required a second removal in June of 2017. Despite claims of separate living arrangements, the parents conceived a fifth child, born in December 2017. This child was removed from the parents at birth. The court adjudicated her a CINA on January 12, 2018. The court issued its permanency ruling in December 2018 recommending the State proceed with termination of parental rights of all the children.

         At the time of the termination hearing and for the twenty previous months, custody of the four older children remained out of their parents' care. The youngest child was in foster care for the fourteen months since her birth.

         Citing the children's best interests, on May 19, 2019, the juvenile court found that the State had established grounds for termination and no exceptions applied to prevent termination. The court terminated the mother's and the father's parental rights to all five children. The parents appeal. We will discuss other facts below, as relevant.

         II. Standard of Review.

         Our review of termination of parental rights proceedings is de novo. In re L.T., 924 N.W.2d 521, 526 (Iowa 2019). We give weight to the juvenile court's factual findings, but they do not bind us. In re M.D., 921 N.W.2d 229, 232 (Iowa 2018). The paramount concern is the children's best interests. Id.

         III. Analysis.

         To begin, we use a three-step analysis to review termination-of-parental-rights cases under Iowa Code chapter 232 (2019). See In re P.L., 778 N.W.2d 33, 39–40 (Iowa 2010). If the State establishes a ground for termination under Iowa Code section 232.116(1), we then consider whether termination is in the children's best interests. Id. If the best-interests framework supports termination, we must consider whether any statutory exceptions exist to preclude termination of parental rights. See Iowa Code § 232.116(3); P.L., 778 N.W.2d at 39–40.

         The mother and father's parental rights were terminated under Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(f)[2] as to the three oldest children, and under section 232.116(1)(h)[3] as to the two youngest children. These parents separately ...


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