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In re J.G.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

January 9, 2020

IN THE INTEREST OF J.G. and L.G., Minor Children, J.G., Father, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Madison County, Brendan Greiner, District Associate Judge.

         A father appeals the termination of his parental rights to his children.

          Julie A. Forsyth of Forsyth Law Office, P.L.L.C., Winterset, for appellant father.

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

          Penny B. Reimer of Cooper, Goedicke, Reimer, & Reese, PC, West Des Moines, attorney and guardian ad litem for minor children.

          Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Mullins and Schumacher, JJ.

          Mullins, Judge.

         A father appeals the termination of his parental rights to his two children, born in 2014 and 2015.[1] He complains the children were not placed with their paternal grandmother upon removal, argues termination is not in the children's best interests, and requests an additional six months to work toward reunification.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         The Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) provided the family with services beginning in early 2017. In August 2017, allegations arose that the mother allowed the children in the presence of people consuming marijuana, the mother was in the illegal possession of prescription pills, and domestic violence occurred in the presence of the children. Law enforcement removed the children from the home. At the time, the parents were not in a relationship. The mother stipulated to formal removal. The children were placed in the legal custody of DHS for physical placement in foster care.

         Shortly after removal, the father stipulated to violating his probation and was ordered to serve thirty days in jail. In October, the father again stipulated to violating his probation after testing positive for methamphetamine and THC, and his previously suspended prison sentences were imposed-three consecutive indeterminate terms of incarceration not to exceed five years, five years, and two years.[2] The children were adjudicated in need of assistance in November upon the parents' stipulation.

         In February 2018, the children were returned to the mother's custody. The placement was confirmed at a March review hearing. Shortly thereafter, the mother was arrested. The children were again formally removed from the mother's care and were placed in the custody of the mother's then boyfriend, B.D., with whom the mother had been living since November 2017 and the children since their return to the mother's custody. The children have remained in the custody of B.D. since; they are extremely attached to him and integrated into his home, and they refer to him as dad. B.D. is no longer in a relationship with the children's mother. He is willing and able to adopt the children and be their permanent caregiver.

         Time went on. The father remained incarcerated throughout the proceedings. In or about October 2018, the father was transferred to a maximum security facility after, according to his prison counselor, he was caught using methamphetamine. He meaningfully engaged in services relating to substance abuse and parenting while incarcerated. Generally, he had consistent phone contact with the children when he was able. He also sent them birthday and Christmas cards. However, he has had no in-person contact with the children for nearly two years. While he requested it, DHS determined in-person visitation would be contrary to the children's best interests, a determination not challenged on appeal.[3] The tentative discharge date of the father's prison sentences is in 2023. At a permanency hearing in early July 2019, the father testified he expected to be paroled in a month, after which he would reside in a work-release facility, which he testified he would be out of in another month. At the time of the termination hearing in late August, the father was still in prison. He testified he would be eligible for parole in November.

         In February 2019, DHS recommended an extension of time to work toward reunification. The juvenile court granted the request. The State ultimately petitioned for the termination of both parents' rights in July 2019. Following a hearing, the juvenile court terminated the father's parental rights under Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(f) (2019) as to the older child, section ...


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