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In re J.R.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

November 6, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF J.R. and D.R., Minor Children, J.R., Mother, Appellant, R.R., Father, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Warren County, Brendan Greiner, District Associate Judge.

         A mother and father appeal the termination of their parental rights.

          Tara M. Elcock of Elcock Law Firm, PLC, Indianola, for appellant mother.

          Blake D. Lubinus of Lubinus & Merrill, P.L.C., Des Moines, for appellant father.

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

          M. Kathryn Miller of Juvenile Public Defender Office, Des Moines, attorney and guardian ad litem for minor children.

          Considered by Doyle, P.J., and Tabor and Schumacher, JJ.

          DOYLE, Presiding Judge.

         A mother and father separately appeal the termination of their parental rights. Upon our de novo review, we affirm on both appeals.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

         J.R. is the mother and R.R. is the father of J.R., born in 2004, and D.R., born in 2005. In June 2017, the children were removed from the parents' care after the family home was found to be inhabitable; it was also alleged the parents were using methamphetamine. The children were placed in the custody of their adult half-brother under the supervision of the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS). The children were adjudicated as children in need of assistance (CINA), and services for reunification of the family were offered to each parent. The parents were directed that each parent would "need to address substance use as evidenced by [engagement] with [appropriate] mental health and substance abuse treatment" before the DHS could recommend the children be returned to the parents' care. The parents were advised each would need to learn and show "age appropriate parenting with problem solving and communication methods needed to keep the children safe and meet their needs," which they would show by "modeling these skills in front of the children."

         A permanency review hearing took place on July 6, 2018, under Iowa Code section 232.104 (2018). Before a permanency order was entered, the children's attorney and guardian ad litem on September 14, 2018, filed a motion requesting that visitation between the parents and children be suspended. The motion stated the parents' behavior had "become so erratic, hostile, and out of control" the children did not want to have contact with the parents until they could show their visits would be positive. One of the children reported the mother came to the child's place of employment and made a scene noted by the child's employer. The parents had also been asked not to come to the guardian's home but continued to do so. The parents reported to the DHS the guardian and his spouse had tried to run the parents off the road, but the children, their guardian, and his spouse all denied this happened.

         On September 20, 2018, a hearing on the children's motion to suspend visitation was held. The children testified at the hearing. Among other testimony, one child testified it was his preference that the parents not come to his football games; it made him "a little bit anxious to wonder what they might do when [he's] there at the game." Though there had been no issues with his parents at his games before, the child did not think having them there "seem[ed] very safe" and found their behavior to be unpredictable.

         Four days later, the juvenile court entered its permanency order. The court found the parents had been unable "to successfully complete substance-abuse treatment, therapy and visitation" as directed. Even so, the juvenile court found termination of the parents' parental rights was not in the children's best interest at that time "due to the age of the children, bond established and potential loss of public benefits and inheritance." The court opted to establish a guardianship of the children with their elder sibling and his wife as guardians, finding it was the least restrictive disposition and in the children's best interests. The court did not address the children's prior motion or set out any provisions for visitation in the permanency order. But the same day, the court denied the children's motion, stating the court's "permanency order has addressed the visitation matter." The court also entered a no-contact order directing the parents not to contact the children's guardian.

         The father appealed the permanency order, and a panel of this court affirmed the decision, concluding the juvenile court "appropriately transferred guardianship and custody of the children to the relative." In re J.R., No. 18-1922, 2019 WL 719054, at *3 (Iowa Ct. App. Feb. 20, 2019). This court noted that the juvenile court could have terminated the father's parental rights, given the facts of the case. See id. But the court agreed with the juvenile court's decision "not to invoke this remedy in the hopes that the parent-child relationship, however fraught, might repair itself over time," because it was "in the children's best interests." Id. Procedendo issued in March 2019.

         Just before the father's filing of the appeal, the parents moved to establish visitation post-permanency. Then, while the appeal was pending, the mother sent the juvenile court a letter demanding that the court issue an order putting the children's "safety as a priority," as well as demanding she be allowed to exercise her parental rights. The court set a hearing on the issues raised by the mother. The day of the hearing, the juvenile court entered a no-contact order between the children and persons the mother alleged to have harmed the children.

         In January 2019, the mother moved to dismiss the no-contact order entered between the parents and the children's guardian. She argued there was no basis for the order and it violated her constitutional rights. In February 2019, the juvenile court addressed the parents' visitation motion and amended its prior orders to include conditional visitation provisions. The court clarified the parents could have one weekly visit with the children if they met two conditions: Each parent had to provide "three clean random UA's over an eighteen-day period or a clean hair analysis or patch," as well as a recent report from his or her therapist on the parent's current mental-health condition.

         In April 2019, the juvenile court denied the mother's request to dismiss the no-contact order between the parents and the children's guardian, finding the no-contact order was necessary and remained in the children's best interests. The court pointed out there was no evidence either parent had tried to satisfy the conditions the ...

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