IN THE INTEREST OF J.D., J.D., and M.S., Minor Children, M.D., Mother, Appellant, J.Z.-G., Father, Appellant.
from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Susan Cox,
District Associate Judge.
separately appeal a juvenile court order terminating their
J. Tingle, Des Moines, for appellant mother.
Knight of Carr Law Firm, P.L.C., Des Moines, for appellant
J. Miller, Attorney General, and Anna T. Stoeffler (until
withdrawal) and Mary A. Triick, Assistant Attorneys General,
for appellee State.
ConGarry D. Williams of Juvenile Public Defender, Des Moines,
attorney and guardian ad litem for minor children.
Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Potterfield and
separately appeal the termination of their parental rights to
their child, Jx.D., born in 2012. The mother additionally
appeals the termination of her parental rights to her two
other children, Jy.D., born in 2011, and M.S., born in
2014. The father challenges the sufficiency of the
evidence underlying the statutory grounds for termination
cited by the juvenile court and argues termination is not in
his child's best interests. The mother echoes the
father's claims as to her three children. She
additionally argues the juvenile court abused its discretion
in denying her motion to continue the termination hearing on
the ground that she was unable to participate and provide
testimony relative to her ability to have the children
returned to her care within six months and maintains the
court should have applied the exception to termination
contained in Iowa Code section 232.116(3)(a) (2019) to
mother and children came to the attention of the Iowa
Department of Human Services (DHS) in late 2017 due to
allegations of the mother's recent substance abuse and
her history of leaving the children with others and not
returning. The mother has an extensive history of using
illegal drugs, mental-health issues, criminal activity, and
being the subject of domestic violence. At the time,
Jy.D.'s father was incarcerated, Jx.D.'s father was
unknown, and M.S.'s father was deceased. An order for
temporary removal was entered in January 2018. Shortly
thereafter, all three children tested positive for
cannabinoids, two tested positive for methamphetamine, and
one tested positive for amphetamines. The children were
adjudicated in need of assistance in May.
October, the appellant father was legally established as the
father of Jx.D. The father was in prison at the time. The
father also has an extensive criminal history. DHS reached
out to the father to identify his intentions as to the child.
There is no indication in the record that the father
requested any services, although he testified at the
termination hearing to his desire to parent the child. The
father is serving his third stint of prison time following
his convictions of forgery and theft in the second degree. He
testified he would be eligible for parole in October 2019.
His discharge date is in 2023. The father testified he knew
Jx.D. was possibly his child but did not know for sure until
paternity testing was completed. He acknowledged having no
relationship with the child. He has only had contact with the
child "[l]ike once maybe twice" for "maybe an
hour or so." He could not testify to the child's
the life of these proceedings, the mother has wholly failed
to address her substance-abuse and mental-health issues. The
mother denies drug use, but she continues to exhibit physical
and behavioral indicators of being under the influence of
illegal substances. The mother entered inpatient treatment in
April 2019, one day before the first day of the termination
hearing, but she made no progress toward her treatment plan
goals; she left treatment after only ten days, which was
prior to the last day of the termination hearing. She has
continued to engage in criminal activity, which has landed
her in jail several times throughout the proceedings. Simply
stated, the mother has made zero progress since removal.
February 2019, the State petitioned for termination of both
parents' parental rights. A termination hearing was held
over two days in April and May. The court terminated the
mother's parental rights to all three children under Iowa
Code section 232.116(1)(f) and the father's rights to
Jx.D. under section 232.116(1)(b) and (f). Both parents
review is de novo. In re L.T., 924 N.W.2d 521, 526
(Iowa 2019). Our primary consideration is the best interests
of the children, In re J.E., 723 N.W.2d 793, 798
(Iowa 2006), the defining elements of which are the
children's safety ...