from the Iowa District Court for Warren County, Kevin Parker,
District Associate Judge.
father appeals the termination of his parental rights to his
minor child under Iowa Code chapter 600A (2017).
Bridget M. Bott of Bott Law Office, P.L.L.C., West Des
Moines, for appellant.
H. Judisch of Stuyvesant, Benton & Judisch, Carlisle, for
Considered by Bower, C.J., and May and Greer, JJ.
appeals the termination of his parental rights to his minor
child, S.S. He argues he did not abandon S.S. under Iowa Code
section 600A.8(3)(b) (2017) and termination is not in
S.S.'s best interests. On our review, we agree with the
district court and affirm the termination of J.S.'s
father acknowledged he "had [a] criminal history prior
to meeting" the child's mother, B.W., but he was not
incarcerated when S.S. was born in March 2015. The father,
mother, and S.S. lived with the paternal grandmother at this
time. On April 27, the father tested positive for
methamphetamine, which led to the revocation of his probation
and incarceration at a federal prison in Missouri. The mother
and child did not see him again until his release from prison
on or about November 9. He resumed living with the paternal
grandmother, the mother, and the child upon his release.
about March 30, 2016, the father was arrested for two counts
of theft. He ultimately pleaded guilty to one count of theft
in the second degree and was sentenced to a term of
incarceration not to exceed five years. After sentencing,
the mother and child began visiting him in prison almost
every other weekend. The father also called and sent letters
to them during this time.
pattern of contact continued until early June 2017 when these
parents conversed about a "package" containing the
drug K2 being sent to the mother. According to the mother,
the father insinuated that she should smuggle the package of
drugs into prison during a visitation. According to the
father, the mother participated in the planning. The mother
acknowledged receiving the package, but she claimed she threw
the package away before the visit at the prison. In any
event, on June 23, the mother and child arrived at the prison
to visit the father. Prison officials immediately stopped
them, questioned the mother, and searched her vehicle for
illegal substances. The mother testified the traumatic
experience of the search caused her to suffer from
post-traumatic stress disorder but that the child remained
unaffected by the incident. Yet the mother admitted at the
hearing she previously smuggled tobacco into prison during
visitations. The father testified the prison sales of tobacco
provided income to benefit the family.
the June 23 incident, the prison prohibited the father from
contacting the mother for thirty days, and from that point
she voluntarily ended all visitation and communication with
him. He tried to call, but she blocked his number. He also
mailed letters and cards to both the mother and child, but
she refused to share them with the child.
September 20, the mother filed the petition to terminate the
father's parental rights under Iowa Code chapter 600A. On
August 17 and 31, 2018, the court held a hearing on the
matter. On January 16, 2019, the court issued its order
finding the father abandoned the child and termination was in
the child's best interests. The father appeals.
review chapter 600A termination proceedings de novo. In
re R.K.B., 572 N.W.2d 600, 601 (Iowa 1998).
"Although we are not bound by them, we give weight to
the trial court's findings of fact, especially when
considering credibility of witnesses." Id.
"The primary interest in termination proceedings is the
best interests of the child." Id.
petitioner must satisfy a two-step process to terminate
parental rights under chapter 600A. In re Q.G., 911
N.W.2d 761, 770 (Iowa 2018). First, the petitioner must
"show by clear and convincing evidence a threshold event
has occurred that opens the door for potential termination of
parental rights." Id.; see also Iowa
Code § 600A.8. "Once that threshold showing has
been made, the petitioner next must show by clear and