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In re M.P.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

October 9, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF M.P. and M.P., Minor Children, J.P., Father, Appellant.

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

         A father appeals the termination of his parental rights.

          Ivan E. Miller, Red Oak, for appellant father.

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

          Karen Mailander of Mailander Law Office, Anita, attorney and guardian ad litem for minor children.

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

          MAY, JUDGE.

         The juvenile court terminated the father's parental rights to his children, M.J.P. and M.F.P.[1] On appeal, the father contends the juvenile court erred in (1) concluding the statutory grounds authorizing termination were met, (2) determining termination is in the children's best interests, and (3) declining to rely on permissive factors to forgo termination. We affirm the juvenile court.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         The father and mother met in 2011 and married in 2012. The mother already had three children from a prior relationship.[2] M.J.P. and M.F.P. were born to the couple in 2012 and 2014, respectively. But by 2015, the parents separated. In 2016, the mother and the children moved in with the mother's paramour.

         The Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) became involved when a therapy provider reported that the mother suggested she was having difficulty caring for the children. Also, the children appeared dirty, hungry, and inadequately clothed. DHS inspected the home and found the children's bedroom to be in "deplorable" condition. Interviews with the older children revealed the children were often left unsupervised and had inadequate food.

         The mother and her paramour submitted to drug testing; the paramour tested positive for methamphetamine. A DHS worker informed the mother child-in-need-of-assistance proceedings would be initiated and advised her to have the three oldest children return to their father's care to avoid adjudication. The mother complied.

         Following a child-protective assessment, M.F.P. and M.J.P.'s father behaved in a concerning manner. He threatened to withhold the children after his visitation. He also sent up to one-hundred messages per day to a family safety, risk, and permanency (FSRP) worker assigned to the family. During a meeting between concerned parties, the father became aggressive toward the mother.

         In January 2017, the juvenile court formally adjudicated M.F.P. and M.J.P. as children in need of assistance. The court also removed both children from the parents' custody.

         In February, the court entered a two-year no-contact order prohibiting the father from contacting the mother.

         Following adjudication, the mother made strides. She ended her relationship with her paramour. She successfully completed both inpatient and outpatient substance-abuse treatment and engaged in mental-health services. She also completed several parenting programs.

         The father completed a requested substance-abuse evaluation, which indicated he did not require any substance-abuse treatment. He also submitted to a mental-health evaluation. Additionally, he completed five therapy sessions and received a letter from a therapist stating the therapist was "aware of no information that would lead [him] to believe or conclude that [the father] has a problem with anger."

         Even so, the father struggled to behave appropriately in front of the children. For example, during an April 2017 visit, the father became upset about the content of an FSRP report; began pacing around the FSRP worker; accused her of lying; ended the visit early; instructed the children to "ask [the FSRP worker] why she is so mean to daddy"; yelled "bitch" at the worker while making an obscene hand gesture; and then struck the hood of the FSRP van while the children were inside the vehicle.

         By May 2017, the court returned the children to mother's care, subject to DHS supervision.[3] And the father received unsupervised overnight visits with the children in August and September.

         But DHS became aware of allegations that the father sexually abused the mother's older children when they all lived together. The children disclosed the abuse after returning to their father's home out of state. Because of these allegations, M.J.P. and M.F.P.'s visitation with their father returned to fully supervised.

         In January 2018, DHS completed child-protective assessments of the father's alleged sexual abuse of the mother's older children. Three founded assessments listed the father as the individual responsible for the abuse.[4] The father appealed one of these findings and reached a settlement agreement that modified the category of founded abuse. As a result of these findings, the juvenile court ordered the father submit to a psychosexual evaluation. But the father did not comply.

         He also ceased contact with the children in 2018 for at least four months. The FSRP worker attempted to facilitate supervised visitations during this period. But the ...

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