In Interests of W.G., 83-554

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa
Writing for the CourtHARRIS
Citation349 N.W.2d 487
PartiesIn the Interests of W.G., S.G., D.G., W.G., K.G., J.G., and N.G., Children, J.G. and P.G., Appellants.
Docket NumberNo. 83-554,83-554
Decision Date16 May 1984

Gary K. Anderson of Anderson & Wheeler, Council Bluffs, for appellant father. Gregory L. Waggoner of Waggoner & Walters, Council Bluffs, for appellant mother.

Thomas J. Miller, Atty. Gen., Gordon E. Allen, Sp. Asst. Atty. Gen., and Brent D. Hege, Asst. Atty. Gen., for appellee State of Iowa.


HARRIS, Justice.

This is a statutory proceeding seeking termination of parent-child relationships between natural parents and seven of their children. The district court determined the State established grounds for terminating the relationships. We affirm the district court and, so doing, we vacate a contrary decision of the court of appeals.

The parents think this controversy centers on two beliefs held by the father and now also subscribed to by the mother. The father is committed to an agrarian lifestyle which, if not primitive, is at least starkly simple. And he states he strongly believes in corporal punishment in the rearing of his children. We wish to make it plain at the outset that we think neither of these views are at issue here. The parents' lifestyle is of concern here only if it appears to have adversely affected the children. The law clearly gives parents who are so inclined the right to inflict reasonable corporal punishment in connection with the rearing of their children. We have always required the right to be exercised reasonably. In State v. Bitman, 13 Iowa 485, 486 (1862) we said:

It is the right of a parent to chastise his child, but when such chastisement amounts to cruelty or inhumanity, or where ... the parent or master goes beyond the line of reasonable correction, his conduct becomes more or less criminal.

What is at issue here is cruelty to children. The evidence of its existence is overwhelming and the extent of it far exceeds what can be tolerated in a civilized society.

The mother was born in 1942 and holds a college degree in home economics. She was an elementary school teacher in Wisconsin before and during the early years of her marriage. She and the father were married in 1968, and have since resided in Wisconsin. The father's farm background, and general outlook on life, were vastly different from the mother's. The father wrote the following in a letter:

Those who can do and those who can't teach.... My father beat me because he loved me. I love him because he beat me and show me the right way. I'm honest I work hard I dont steal. I dont lie. I don't cheat I am charitable I love people and living things and I beat people to show them the right way. Kiss my foot if you don't like me. You losers and projectionists. Come on over and I'll show you some love with a whip.

Eight children were born to the parents; the youngest is not involved in this proceeding. Six of these children were born on the farmstead. The mother also had two miscarriages, and another child who died at four weeks of age.

The district court filed extensive findings of fact. On our de novo review we reach the same factual conclusions. Indeed, any close reading of the testimony of the parents discloses there is little disagreement about the material facts. They were developed at both the CHINA and termination hearings. As the district court's findings are both careful and perceptive, we quote from them the following, which we adopt as our own:

[The mother] and her seven children left their Wisconsin home on December 23, 1980. [She] had contacted the Jefferson County [Wisconsin] Human Services Department by telephone on December 17, 1980, requesting assistance. That agency had provided assistance to the family about eighteen months before when [the mother] had previously left her husband. She described her husband ... as physically and emotionally abusive, with the most recent episode of physical abuse resulting in her receiving a blackened eye about two weeks [previously]. She was also concerned because [the father] had stated he would no longer allow the children to receive medical attention, no matter what. She expressed fear and apprehension for the safety of herself, her children, and her parents if she were to leave him. She wanted no one from the agency to come to the farm, for there was "no telling what he'd do." After some discussion [the mother] was advised she must make a decision about leaving, and was assured of agency assistance. She called again several hours later requesting assistance to leave immediately.

Transportation was provided by [the agency, and the mother] and her seven children left the farm. This was the fourth time she had left her husband since 1977. Arrangements were made for food, lodging and medical examinations. After discussions between [the mother] and agency workers, which included examination of potential Wisconsin court involvement, [the mother] opted to come to Council Bluffs, Iowa, where her parents live.

The children were adjudicated in need of assistance in March 1981. Extensive agency efforts to improve the family situation were made both before and after the CHINA hearing. The efforts were to no avail. As stated by the district court:

[The father] now feels more confident in his beliefs, and believes he has made no errors in the discipline of his children or wife. In testimony [the father] espouses a sequential acceleration of consequences for effective discipline, to wit:

(a) try to reason with the child,

(b) removal of privileges,

(c) corporal punishment pursuant to what the Bible says,

(d) then call on society and the judicial system.

In the past his discipline techniques have included:

(a) the utilization of machinery "v" belts and boards to spank his children and wife,

(b) kicking his children,

(c) spanking and slapping his children for "needless" crying until they stopped crying,

(d) verbally haranging and berating his wife and children for hours or days, and

(e) physically disciplining his wife in the children's presence.

[The father] believes corporal punishment must hurt--it has to sting--in order to be effective. Corporal punishment of his wife was necessary as he wanted to "subdue and stop her wrongful activities that would cause harm to the children." [The father] anticipates no change in his method of discipline.


[The father's] philosophy of life centers around his "independence from commercial exploitation"--self-sufficiency to the point of needing little money for the purchase of goods or services from outside the family farm. He claims his religious principles--traditional Catholic--were formed from the time he was six months to one year in age. As husband he is the absolute head of the family. He must control all decisions of family life. He voices a strong belief in the unity of a man's family.

[The father's] belief in family unity, however, does not extend beyond his immediate offspring. He has apparently had no contact with his parents for about ten years. He had prevented [the mother] from having contact with her parents for more than five years. He believes his wife's parents ... carry on a passive sabotage of his farm operation through [the wife]. Any mishap on the farm is proof of this "sabotage." Lost business opportunities (real or imagined), the escape of cattle from confinement in pen or fenced field, the death of livestock (cattle, calves, or chicks), even the overflowing of the water trough are all examples of active sabotage against him. These acts have been the cause for corporal punishment of the children and [the mother].

The mother, as a result of what one expert called the "classic" battered-woman syndrome 1 is now reconciled with her husband's theories of severe discipline. She states she now subscribes to them. Those views were described in the mother's testimony at the CHINA hearing as follows:

Q. Did he ever have occasion to beat the children, too, Ma'am? A. Oh--very seldom. It was usually me but the children were included on some occasions.

Q. Concerning the children, you indicated that he didn't beat them or hit them, abuse them very frequently, but in your affidavit you indicate that he would not allow the children to cry? A. That's true. If they fell down and hurt themselves when they were playing or scuffling or whatever, if they started to cry he would immediately say, "Don't cry, it's your fault you fell down" or "Your fault you got hurt. You were clumsy." They were not allowed to cry for anything that might have caused them to cry.

Q. At what age did he start to initiate this behavior on the children? A. The youngest that--real definite one that I could see was when [W.] was about, let's see, he was still sleeping. When they were born they were placed in a dresser drawer because we didn't have a crib. He was less than three months old, he was still in the dresser drawer. I came in the house and my husband was talking on the phone and it always irritated him when there was any other noise. [W.] was missing. I went looking for him. He was in the closet with the heavy coat over top of him. The coat had fallen down. He was sweating and all red and coughing. This wasn't directly inflicted discipline by him but it was an attempt to keep the child quiet.

Q. Was it that he could not stand crying or did he think it was a part of the person's character not to cry? A. The child should not be allowed to interfere with the father in any way. When the father was doing business or associating with other people.

Q. I believe you referred to him in his letters about his answers to this type of discipline, what other things did he do to the children? A. He would yell at them. Tell them they were stupid. Things like this, belittle them. He would hit them with a belt. Slap them with his hand, kick them.


Q. Did you ever have to, by either his force or...

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