In re D.S., 22-1455

CourtCourt of Appeals of Iowa
Writing for the CourtCHICCHELLY, Judge.
PartiesIN THE INTEREST OF D.S., Minor Child, M.S., Father, Appellant, D.S., Mother, Appellant.
Docket Number22-1455
Decision Date17 November 2022

IN THE INTEREST OF D.S., Minor Child, M.S., Father, Appellant, D.S., Mother, Appellant.

No. 22-1455

Court of Appeals of Iowa

November 17, 2022


Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Cerro Gordo County, Adam Sauer, District Associate Judge.

A father appeals the termination of his parental rights to his child. AFFIRMED.

Cameron M. Sprecher of Sprecher Law Office, P.L.C., Mason City, for appellant father.

Barbara Jo Westphal, Belmond, for appellant mother.

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Ellen Ramsey-Kacena, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.

Becky Wilson of O'Mara Wilson Law, P.L.L.C., Mason City, attorney and guardian ad litem for minor child.

Considered by Tabor, P.J., and Schumacher and Chicchelly, JJ.

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CHICCHELLY, Judge.

A father appeals the termination of his parental rights to his child. He asks for more time and contends the juvenile court erred by finding the State proved the grounds for termination. He also contends termination is not in the child's best interests and would harm the child based on the close bond they share.

We review termination proceedings de novo. In re J.H., 952 N.W.2d 157, 166 (Iowa 2020). After doing so, we conclude more time would not change the outcome of the proceedings, the statutory requirements for termination have been met, and termination is in the child's best interests. We therefore affirm.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

The child was born in 2018. Because of the mother's methamphetamine use and concerns about domestic violence between the parents, the child was removed from the home and placed in the custody of the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) in July 2021. The juvenile court adjudicated the child in need of assistance (CINA) in September.

The DHHS first placed the child in the father's care[1] with the understanding that the father would not supervise the mother's visits with the child or allow the mother to live in the home. But in the days after the CINA adjudication, the DHHS learned of ongoing contact between the mother and the father, and attempts to contact each parent went unanswered. Concerned for the child's safety, the DHHS decided to remove the child from the father's care and place the child with a foster family. A worker arrived at the father's home for removal and discovered the father

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left the child with the maternal grandmother, who has a history of substance use. The worker reported that when the child was returned, the grandmother showed "physical indicators of possible substance use."

The father made no progress toward reunification. The juvenile court gave a succinct summary of the father's limited engagement with services:

Since November 2021, [the father] has only met with the [DHHS] when his attorney could also be present. [The father] is not currently participating in Family Centered Services [The father] completed four anger management classes and reported that he did not need to attend more classes. [The father] no showed for paternity testing on November 3 and December 8, 2021, and May 20, 2022. [The father] has not had an interaction with the child since the beginning of [2022] and has provided no reasonable explanation for not seeing the child in approximately seven months. [The father] has made no attempts, whether in-person, over the phone, or video, to have contact with the child.

As a result, the juvenile court found clear and convincing evidence supported terminating the father's parental rights under Iowa Code section 232.116(1)(e) and (h) (2022). The father appeals.[2]

II. Extending Time.

The father first asks for more time to reunify with the child. Iowa Code section 232.104(2)(b) allows the court to continue the child's placement for six months if doing so will eliminate the need for the child's removal. But before the court can grant more time, it must "enumerate the specific factors, conditions, or expected behavioral changes which comprise the basis for the determination that

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the need for removal of the child from the child's home will no longer exist at the end of the additional six-month period." Iowa Code § 232.104(2)(b).

The father argues for more time, claiming he "made significant progress" by finding employment and trying to maintain housing. He admits he did not participate in services because he distrusted the DHHS and disagreed with its determination that he was not a suitable placement for the child. But concerns about the father's ability to care for the child arose when he violated the safety plan. And the father's claim that "[t]here is no rule of law that states a parent must comply with services offered by the [DHHS] in order to regain custody" ignores that the juvenile court ordered his participation.[3]

Nothing in the record suggests custody can be returned to the father with more time. The progress claimed by the father is in areas that were not a concern when the case began. He made no progress with the concerns that led to the DHHS to remove the child from his care: allowing the mother and maternal grandmother contact with the child and failing to address concerns about domestic violence in his relationship...

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