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In re A.C.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

January 9, 2020

IN THE INTEREST OF A.C., Minor Child, C.H., Father, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Black Hawk County, Daniel L. Block, Associate Juvenile Judge.

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

          Joseph G. Martin, Cedar Falls, for appellant father.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Ellen Ramsey-Kacena, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.

          Tammy L. Banning of the Juvenile Public Defender Office, Waterloo, guardian ad litem for minor child.

          Considered by Bower, C.J., and May and Greer, JJ.

          GREER, JUDGE.

         C.H., the father, appeals the termination of his parental rights to A.C., born in October 2017. The Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) removed the child from the parents' care shortly after birth because of concerns over the mother's mental health and substance abuse.[1] DHS placed the child with the maternal great-grandmother after removal. No parent ever regained care.

         At the time of A.C.'s birth, the father was not in a relationship with the mother and not involved with the child. The mother told him he was the father soon after birth, but then she quickly asserted another man was the father. He complains he was unaware he was the father until several months after the birth. Yet in a separate proceeding to establish paternity and support, the sheriff's office certified they personally served C.H. in April 2018 with notice alleging he was the father. Although he failed to participate, the court found C.H. to be the father and withheld his income for A.C.'s support. He testified his brother signed for the notice and he never received it, and he believed the child support withheld from his income was for another child of his.

         With little progress from the mother, in June 2018 the State filed the petition to terminate the parental rights of the mother and C.H. On July 27, C.H. was arrested for burglary and possession of methamphetamine and marijuana. He testified he learned about the termination proceeding naming him as the father while in jail following this arrest.[2] On October 22, the juvenile court held a hearing on the matter, and the father participated while in jail on the pending charges. The court continued the hearing for the parents to conduct paternity testing. Later that day, C.H. pleaded guilty to second-degree burglary and the two possession charges, and the criminal court imposed a suspended prison sentence and probation.

         After testing confirmed C.H. as the father, the termination hearing resumed on January 30, 2019. The juvenile court deferred permanency for both parents, ordered supervised visitation, and required mental-health and substance-abuse evaluations and other conditions:

That during the next five months the parents would comply with all recommendations for substance abuse and mental health counseling, provide random drug tests as requested, regularly attend all scheduled visitations and take all prescribed medications. Further, the parents shall demonstrate an ability to maintain safe and stable housing for the child to return, maintain employment and follow through with services being offered. Both parents shall participate in parent education programming. Both parents shall not use illegal substances.

         Persuaded by some positive developments, on June 4 the juvenile court again deferred permanency to allow a trial home placement with the father. But on June 21, when he provided a urine sample as a condition of his probation, he tested positive for amphetamines and methamphetamine. Two days later, he provided a urine sample to DHS at his request, which tested negative. Because of the positive test and a required return to the residential facility for violating probation, DHS ended the trial home placement and returned the child to the great-grandmother's care. On August 15, the juvenile court concluded the termination hearing. The court issued its September 18 order terminating the rights of both parents.[3]

         The father now appeals the termination of his parental rights. We review termination-of-parental-rights proceedings de novo. In re L.T., 924 N.W.2d 521, 526 (Iowa 2019). We give weight to the juvenile court's factual findings, but they do not bind us. In re M.D., 921 N.W.2d 229, ...


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