D.B. v. Nerenstone (In re D.B.), 21-0790

CourtCourt of Appeals of Iowa
Writing for the CourtSCHUMACHER, JUDGE.
PartiesIN THE INTEREST OF D.B., JR., Minor child, D.B., SR., Father, Appellant, v. MARTI D. NERENSTONE, Guardian ad Litem, Appellant
Docket Number21-0790
Decision Date18 August 2021

IN THE INTEREST OF D.B., JR., Minor child,

D.B., SR., Father, Appellant,
v.

MARTI D. NERENSTONE, Guardian ad Litem, Appellant

No. 21-0790

Court of Appeals of Iowa

August 18, 2021


Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Pottawattamie County, Charles D. Fagen, District Associate Judge.

A father and the guardian ad litem for a minor child appeal the district court's order terminating the father's parental rights.

Roberta J. Megel of State Public Defender's Office, Council Bluffs, for appellant father. Marti D. Nerenstone, Council Bluffs, Guardian ad Litem for appellant minor child.

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

Considered by Bower, C.J., and Vaitheswaran and Schumacher, JJ.

SCHUMACHER, JUDGE.

A father and the guardian ad litem (GAL) for a minor child appeal the district court's order terminating the father's parental rights. There is sufficient evidence in the record to support termination of the father's parental rights. The State engaged in reasonable efforts to reunite the father and child. Termination of the father's parental rights is in the child's best interests. The court properly determined none of the exceptions to termination should be applied. Accordingly, we affirm the decision of the district court.

I. Background Facts & Proceedings

D.B., father, and C.B., mother, are the parents of D.B., who was born in 2009. The family has a long history of involvement with the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS).[1] The most recent DHS involvement with the family began in April 2019, due to reports the mother was using methamphetamine while caring for the child. The child was removed from the parents' custody on June 14 and placed with the maternal grandmother.[2]

On September 20, the child was adjudicated to be in need of assistance (CINA), pursuant to Iowa Code section 232.2(6)(c)(2) and (n) (2019). The father was ordered to complete substance-abuse and mental-health evaluations and follow all recommendations. The father did not remain in contact with DHS or participate in services. He did not attend court hearings.

The maternal grandmother reported that the father contacted her regarding visits, but she refused and referred him to DHS. The father contacted DHS on June 24, 2020. When a social worker attempted to contact him at the telephone number he provided, the number was out of service. A DHS worker talked to the father in August and he declined to participate in any services.

On November 16, the State filed a petition seeking to terminate the father's parental rights.[3] The termination hearing was held on February 23, 2021. The child was in shelter care due to behavioral problems. The court appointed special advocate (CASA) testified the child was on an emotional roller coaster with the father because the father would engage with him and bring him gifts, then let him down. The CASA testified concerning stability and consistency for D.M. if the father's rights were terminated. A DHS worker testified the child could not be placed with the father because there was insufficient information concerning the father's stability and parenting abilities.

The father testified that he believed he had a bond with the child. He stated he was being treated for throat cancer and had other health problems. The father asserted that he spent time with the child without the knowledge of DHS. He testified he did not believe he needed supervised visitation and did not want to have visits through DHS. The father indicated he did not need to participate in any services. The father was living with a friend but stated he would get an apartment if the child was placed in his care. He also stated the child could be placed with the mother. The child, who was then eleven years old, testified that he did not want the father's rights to be terminated. The child stated he had a bond with the father.

The district court terminated the father's parental rights under section 232.116(1)(b), (e), and (f) (2020). The court found:

The father has been ordered to do various services, and he has not complied with the services offered. The child has been out of his parents' care for nineteen of the last twenty-two months with little improvement towards reunification. He continues to wait for his father to engage in services. This child needs and deserves permanency in his life

The court also found, "This child could not be reunified with his father today, or in the foreseeable future." The court declined the father's request for additional time to work on reunification. The court determined the State engaged in reasonable, but unsuccessful, efforts to reunify the child with the father. The court concluded that termination of the father's parental rights was in the child's best interests. The father and GAL appeal the district court's decision.

II. Standard of Review

Our review of termination proceedings is de novo. In re A.B., 815 N.W.2d 764, 773 (Iowa 2012). The State must prove its allegations for termination by clear and convincing evidence. In re C.B., 611 N.W.2d 489, 492 (Iowa 2000). "'Clear and convincing evidence' means there are no serious or substantial doubts as to the correctness [of] conclusions of law drawn from the evidence." Id. Our primary concern is the best interests of the child. In re J.S., 846 N.W.2d 36, 40 (Iowa 2014).

III. Sufficiency of the Evidence

The father and GAL claim the State did not present sufficient evidence to support termination of the father's parental rights. "We will uphold an order terminating parental rights where there is clear and convincing evidence of the statutory grounds for termination." In re T.S., 868 N.W.2d 425, 434 (Iowa Ct. App. 2015), as amended (Oct. 16, 2015). "When the juvenile court orders termination of parental rights on more than one statutory ground, we need only find grounds to terminate on one of the sections to affirm." Id. at 435. We focus on the termination of the father's parental rights under section 232.116(1)(f).[4]

A. The GAL asserts the State did not present clear and convincing evidence to support the third element, which is "[t]he child has been removed from the physical custody of the child's parents for at least twelve of the last eighteen months, or for the last twelve consecutive months and any trial period at home has been less than thirty days." Iowa Code § 232.116(1)(f)(3) (emphasis added). The GAL states the child was in a trial home placement with the mother from September 8, 2020, until November 5, a period of fifty-nine days.

Section 232.116(1)(f)(3) presents two alternative tests. The circumstances of this case may not come within the second alternative, as the trial home placement with the mother was longer than thirty days. See id. However, the circumstances come within the first alternative because the child was removed from the parents' custody on June 14, 2019, and the termination hearing was held on February 23, 2021, twenty months...

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