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In re J.D.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

November 6, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF J.D., J.D., and M.S., Minor Children, M.D., Mother, Appellant, J.Z.-G., Father, Appellant.

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

         Parents separately appeal a juvenile court order terminating their parental rights.

          Bryan J. Tingle, Des Moines, for appellant mother.

          Kelsey Knight of Carr Law Firm, 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.

          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 Mullins, JJ.

          MULLINS, JUDGE.

         Parents 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.[1] The father[2] 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 preclude termination.

         The 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.[3] 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.

         In October, the appellant father was legally established as the father of Jx.D.[4] 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 birth date.

         During 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.

         In 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 appeal.

         Our 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 ...

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