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In re J.F.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

January 9, 2020

IN THE INTEREST OF J.F., Minor Child, C.F., Mother, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Woodbury County, Mark C. Cord III, District Associate Judge.

         A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights.

          T. Cody Farrens, Sioux City, for appellant mother.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Meredith Lamberti, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.

          Molly Vakulskas Joly of Vakulskas Law Firm, P.C., Sioux City, attorney and guardian ad litem for minor child.

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

          MAY, JUDGE.

         A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to her child, J.F., who was born in February 2018. On appeal, the mother claims the statutory grounds authorizing termination were not satisfied and the State failed to make reasonable efforts towards reunification. We affirm.

         We review termination proceedings de novo. In re P.L., 778 N.W.2d 33, 40 (Iowa 2010). "We examine both the facts and law, and we adjudicate anew those issues properly preserved and presented." In re C.S., No. 13-1796, 2014 WL 667883, at *1 (Iowa Ct. App. Feb. 19, 2014). "Although we are not bound by them, we give weight to the trial court's findings of fact, especially when considering credibility of witnesses." In re C.B., 611 N.W.2d 489, 492 (Iowa 2000).

         We generally use a three-step analysis to review the termination of a parent's rights. In re A.S., 906 N.W.2d 467, 472 (Iowa 2018). But when, as here, the parent's claims only relate to one step in our analysis, we only address that step. Here, the mother's claims relate solely to the first step-determination of whether a ground for termination under section 232.116(1) has been established. Id. at 472-73.

         "The State has the burden of proving the grounds for termination by clear and convincing evidence." In re H.L.B.R., 567 N.W.2d 675, 677 (Iowa Ct. App. 1997). "When the juvenile court terminates parental rights on more than one statutory ground, we may affirm the juvenile court's order on any ground we find supported by the record." In re A.B., 815 N.W.2d 764, 774 (Iowa 2012). Here, the juvenile court terminated the mother's rights under Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(d) and (h) (2019). We choose to focus on section 232.116(1)(h).

         The mother only challenges the fourth element of section 232.116(1)(h), whether J.F. could be returned to her at the time of the termination hearing. See Iowa Code § 232.116(1)(h)(4); In re D.W., 791 N.W.2d 703, 707 (Iowa 2010) (interpreting "at the present time" to mean at the time of the termination hearing). The juvenile court concluded J.F. could not be safely returned. This conclusion finds strong support in the record.

         Throughout the life of this case, the mother has lacked stable housing. See In re D.H., No. 18-1552, 2019 WL 156668, at *1 (Iowa Ct. App. Jan. 9, 2019) (finding parent's unstable housing militated in favor of termination and collecting cases). She jumped from location to location and town to town. At the termination hearing, she testified she had secured an apartment-but had only been living there about a month. And she had not paid her complete deposit yet. Given her long history of moving place to place after short periods of time, we cannot say this newly-acquired apartment constitutes stable housing.

         Moreover, the mother struggles both in understanding J.F.'s needs and in accepting guidance intended to educate her about J.F.'s needs. For example, at the termination hearing, she requested J.F. be placed with a friend instead of J.F.'s father. She preferred this placement because she believed her friend would be "more than happy to allow [her] to see [J.F.]" But J.F. ...


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