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In re Q.R.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

November 6, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF Q.R., Minor Child, T.C., Father, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Calhoun County, Joseph McCarville, District Associate Judge.

         A father appeals the termination of his parental rights to his child.

          Christine Sand of Wild, Baxter & Sand, PC, Guthrie Center, for appellant father.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Mary A. Triick, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.

          Martha Sibbel of Law Office of Martha Sibbel P.L.C., Carroll, attorney and guardian ad litem for minor child.

          Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., Mullins, J., and Mahan, S.J. [*]

          MAHAN, SENIOR JUDGE.

         A father appeals the termination of his parental rights to his child, born in 2006.[1] He challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the statutory grounds for termination and contends the juvenile court should have applied the statutory exceptions under Iowa Code section 232.116(3)(a) and (c) (2019) to preclude termination. We affirm.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         This family came to the attention of the department of human services in December 2017, following confirmed methamphetamine use by the mother and her husband as well as domestic violence and housing concerns. The child had been living with his maternal grandparents since the school year prior to the department's involvement. The child was adjudicated to be in need of assistance (CINA). The father, who lives in Louisiana, had not been actively involved in the child's life but expressed interest in taking custody of the child. In March 2018, the court ordered a home study pursuant to the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC) for the father's home in Louisiana. In August, the child was placed with his aunt and uncle in Ogden, along with his two younger brothers.

         A caseworker worked with the father to coordinate communication with the child, despite the child's reluctance to do so because "he did not know [the father] and did not feel comfortable." The father was provided information about the child's placement and extracurricular activities schedule so he would know when he could call. In September 2018, the department reported the father "has not responded to attempts to engage in [Q.R.'s] life. There have been minimal phone calls." Since that time, the father began calling Q.R. more often, but the child consistently expressed he "did not feel comfortable speaking to him."

         In January 2019, the department reported Q.R. was "doing well in school," enjoyed playing football and baseball, and described himself as "happy" in his placement. The child expressed he "wants to stay with his brothers" and "does not want to go live with his father." In April, the department reported the father had been unable to follow through with his contract of expectations with regard to writing letters, providing financial support, or making efforts to schedule an in-person visit. Meanwhile, the child began refusing to speak to the father due to the father's messages speaking negatively about the mother. The child expressed that "he has told his father he does not want to live with him and his father has been dismissive of his feelings."

         The State filed a petition to terminate the father's parental rights. The termination hearing was held in June. Neither parent was present for the hearing, but the child was. The record before the juvenile court indicated the child was "thriving" in his current placement and was bonded to his brothers and aunt and uncle. The department caseworker testified the contact the father had with the child was not "significant enough to establish a relationship with [Q.R.] where [Q.R.] felt a bond with him . . . [o]r establish[] a trust that you would need to with a parent." The caseworker acknowledged the home study had not yet been completed but opined the department had made reasonable efforts because the father "did not do what he needed to do" to even begin establishing a relationship with the child. The department and guardian ad litem recommended termination of the father's parental rights.

         Following the termination hearing, the court entered its order terminating the father's parental rights pursuant to Iowa Code ...


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