G.Y. v. S.W. (In re L.Y.), 20-1034

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa
Writing for the CourtCHRISTENSEN, CHIEF JUSTICE.
Decision Date14 January 2022
PartiesIN THE MATTER OF THE GUARDIANSHIP OF L.Y. v. S.W., Appellee. G.Y. and K.Y., Appellants,
Docket Number20-1034

IN THE MATTER OF THE GUARDIANSHIP OF L.Y.

G.Y. and K.Y., Appellants,
v.

S.W., Appellee.

No. 20-1034

Supreme Court of Iowa

January 14, 2022


Submitted October 20, 2021

Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Story County, Stephen A. Owens, District Associate Judge.

On review from the Iowa Court of Appeals.

A mother seeks further review of a court of appeals decision reversing the juvenile court's order terminating the guardianship of her minor child. DECISION OF COURT OF APPEALS VACATED; JUVENILE COURT JUDGMENT AFFIRMED.

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Andrew B. Howie (argued) of Shindler, Anderson, Goplerud & Weese, P.C., West Des Moines, for appellants.

Dani L. Eisentrager (argued) of Eisentrager Law Office, Eagle Grove, for appellee.

Frank C. Tenuta of Iowa Legal Aid, Sioux City, and Ericka Petersen (argued) of Iowa Legal Aid, Iowa City, for amicus curiae B.M.R.

F.D. Chip Baltimore, II, (argued) of the Law Office of Kirke C. Quinn, Boone, for amicus curiae The Iowa Guardianship and Conservatorship Association.

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OPINION

CHRISTENSEN, CHIEF JUSTICE.

On January 1, 2020, a new guardianship act went into effect in Iowa. This case requires us to interpret that act for the first time. Specifically, we must determine where the burden of proof is allocated and what must be shown when a parent requests termination of a guardianship of a minor child that was established with parental consent. This case also requires us to consider whether the fundamental liberty interests of parents in the care, custody, and control of their children survive the repeal of a statutory presumption favoring parental custody.

Young parents consented to a temporary guardianship for the paternal grandparents to serve as guardians of their almost five-year-old daughter so that she could be placed on the grandparents' medical insurance and easily travel with them on vacation without issues. The guardianship also provided an opportunity for the parents to finalize their divorce and establish stability in their lives. Having achieved that stability, Mom sought to terminate the guardianship. Requiring Mom to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the guardianship should be terminated, the juvenile court concluded that burden was met and the child's long-term interests warranted terminating the guardianship and returning the child to Mom's custody.

The court of appeals reversed the juvenile court's termination order based on its interpretation of the relatively new guardianship act, concluding the act prevented the court from applying a previously codified statutory preference favoring parents over all others in guardianship proceedings. On further review,

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we vacate the court of appeals decision and affirm the judgment of the juvenile court terminating the guardianship, but we do so under slightly different reasoning based on our interpretation of the new guardianship act. While the court of appeals is correct that the new guardianship act repealed the statutory persumption favoring parental custody, parents still have fundamental liberty interests in the care, custody, and control of their children that establish a rebuttable preference in their favor over all others in guardianship proceedings.

When a parent who has not been adjudicated unfit files a motion to terminate a guardianship established with parental consent under Iowa Code section 232D.203 (2020), the juvenile court must start with the rebuttable presumption that the child's best interests are served by reuniting the minor child with their parent. The guardian must then prove by clear and convincing evidence that the guardianship should continue because "termination of the guardianship would be harmful to the minor and the minor's interest in continuation of the guardianship outweighs the interest of a parent of the minor in the termination of the guardianship." Id. § 232D.503. If the guardian fails to meet that burden, the guardianship must be terminated as requested by the moving parent.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

At sixteen years old in May 2009, Mom gave birth to L.Y. Initially, L.Y. stayed with Mom, who lived with her parents in Webster City, for four days and then with Dad, who lived with his parents in Story City, for three days each week. After Mom graduated high school in 2010, she and L.Y. moved in with Dad and

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L.Y.'s paternal grandparents. In February 2011, L.Y.'s parents married and continued to live with the paternal grandparents until the parents moved out with L.Y. in July 2013. The parents separated shortly thereafter in September, and L.Y. returned to living with her paternal grandparents, where Mom would see her on the weekends.

In February 2014, the parents consented to a guardianship with the paternal grandparents serving as L.Y.'s guardians so that the child could be placed on their medical insurance and they could travel together to Arizona on vacation without any issues. Additionally, the guardianship allowed the parents to finalize their divorce and work on getting their separate lives in order. Following a hearing on March 31, the district court appointed the paternal grandparents as co-guardians of L.Y., who was almost five years old at the time. The parents' divorce was not officially finalized until January 2016, and their divorce decree was silent on the issues of custody and visitation for either parent. Instead, the decree simply stated, "[E]ach party desires that the guardianship be continued at the present time. The guardianship shall continue."

Following the parents' separation and the implementation of the guardianship, Mom went to live with her mother and was employed at a cellular phone company, which ultimately gave her the experience she needed to obtain her current position as a 911 dispatcher for Wright County. Mom continued to have contact with L.Y. through phone calls, weekend visits, and a weeklong visit during the summertime. At various times since the guardianship was implemented in February 2014, Mom sought help terminating the guardianship.

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She attempted to seek legal counsel in 2015 and 2017. However, the attorney she consulted with in 2015 advised her to go elsewhere, and she could not afford to hire the attorney she consulted in 2017.

In 2018, Mom wrote the paternal grandparents a letter requesting termination of the guardianship to which they never responded. On another occasion, she texted Dad and paternal grandmother about ending the guardianship, which also did not result in a discussion on the issue. Mom never raised the issue with the guardians in person and nothing changed. With the financial assistance of her family to cover legal fees, Mom hired legal counsel to initiate proceedings to terminate the guardianship of now eleven-year-old L.Y. in June 2020. Mom has now lived in the same single-family home with her boyfriend in Woolstock for at least the past three years, where she has a bedroom for L.Y, and believes she is ready and able to parent L.Y.

At Mom's nomination, the court appointed attorney Mark Olberding as the court visitor.[1] Olberding interviewed Mom, the guardians, L.Y., and Dr. Judy Rudman-L.Y.'s therapist-and recommended the guardianship continue. In doing so, he reasoned L.Y wanted the guardianship to continue, the guardians have been her caregivers for the majority of her life, and the guardianship

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provides L.Y. with "a sense of stability and place" in contrast to the "inconsistent" visitation between L.Y. and her parents.

The juvenile court held a hearing on the mother's motion to terminate the guardianship on July 23. Mom testified that she thought the guardianship was created "under temporary terms . . . and it was for [paternal grandparents] to take medical action if needed, along with going out of state on vacation." She explained she "repeatedly asked if it was temporary" when she was asked to sign the paperwork, and "[paternal grandfather] confirmed that it was."

Mom discussed the difficulties she experienced trying to exercise visitation time with L.Y. because of L.Y.'s other commitments and weekend plans arranged by the guardians. Mom acknowledged she had not attended any school conferences or many medical appointments for L.Y., defending these absences by explaining that the guardians did not keep her informed of the appointments so that she could attend. She also expressed feeling intimidated by the guardians, stating, "[A]t times I don't feel like I can voice what I would like to see with [L.Y.] . . . They just kind of shut me down, I guess." Mom was open about the depression and anxiety she has experienced, much of this due to the guardianship situation, but she declared she has it under control and continues to see a counselor.

Mom testified that she would like the guardianship terminated because she is now in the position to provide for L.Y. financially and emotionally. Mom claimed L.Y. has told her she wants to live with her and cries when she has to return to the guardians. Nevertheless, Mom recognized the bond L.Y. has with

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the guardians and the anxiety that termination could cause L.Y. She stated she would want L.Y. to continue counseling if the guardianship was terminated and to continue to spend time with the guardians and that side of the family to ease the transition.

Dad testified that he now lives in Eldora, is gainfully employed, has remarried, and has other children. He tries to have L.Y. with him "at least once every other weekend or, you know, like same as [L.Y.'s Mom]," but he acknowledged that his contact with L.Y. "could be more" and that he attends "very few" of L.Y.'s doctor appointments, dentist appointments, and school conferences. Dad admitted he has gone "maybe a month, month and a half without having contact with L.Y. at times due to "neglect on [his] part" when he was "busy with the fire department and work and didn't have [his] priorities straight at...

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