Guardianship

Termination of Parental Rights Ruling

The Iowa Court of Appeals entered a judgment affirming a ruling by Judge Constance Cohen, of the District Court of Polk County, in In the Interest of L.C.H.  The juvenile court terminated the parental rights of the parents of a young infant.  The father did not appeal the decision.  The mother was incarcerated and the child tested positive for marijuana at the child’s birth.  The child was removed from the mother’s custody and the maternal grandmother provided care for the child.

The baby was adjudicated to be a Child in Need of Assistance, or CINA.  The mother continued to be incarcerated, however, did complete parenting and victim impact classes.  While at a halfway house, the mother took advantage of visits with her child.  Despite some progress, the court found the mother’s insight into her drug, alcohol and violence was lacking.

Grounds for Termination of Parental Rights

Eventually, the State petitioned to terminate the parental rights of both parents when it became clear that the infant would not be able to be returned to their care in the foreseeable future.  The court terminate the parental rights of the mother under Iowa Code Sections 232.116(1)(d), (h), (l) (2011):

232.116  GROUNDS FOR TERMINATION.

1.  Except as provided in subsection 3, the court may order the termination of both the parental rights with respect to a child and the relationship between the parent and the child on any of the following grounds:

d.  The court finds that both of the following have occurred:

(1)  The court has previously adjudicated the child to be a child in need of assistance after finding the child to have been physically or sexually abused or neglected as the result of the acts or omissions of one or both parents, or the court has previously adjudicated a child who is a member of the same family to be a child in need of assistance after such a finding.

(2)  Subsequent to the child in need of assistance adjudication, the parents were offered or received services to correct the circumstance which led to the adjudication, and the circumstance continues to exist despite the offer or receipt of services.

h.  The court finds that all of the following have occurred:

(1)  The child is three years of age or younger.

(2)  The child has been adjudicated a child in need of assistance pursuant to section 232.96.

(3)  The child has been removed from the physical custody of the child’s parents for at least six months of the last twelve months, or for the last six consecutive months and any trial period at home has been less than thirty days.

(4)  There is clear and convincing evidence that the child cannot be returned to the custody of the child’s parents as provided in section 232.102 at the present time.

l.  The court finds that all of the following have occurred:

(1)  The child has been adjudicated a child in need of assistance pursuant to section 232.96 and custody has been transferred from the child’s parents for placement pursuant to section 232.102.

(2)  The parent has a severe, chronic substance abuse problem, and presents a danger to self or others as evidenced by prior acts.

(3)  There is clear and convincing evidence that the parent’s prognosis indicates that the child will not be able to be returned to the custody of the parent within a reasonable period of time considering the child’s age and need for a permanent home.

Unfortunately, the mother had last seen her child 4 months previously, causing the court to find the child “has no significant attachment (to the mother) because of incarceration.”  The court also noted the mother has a “severe and chronic substance abuse problem” and that the mother is not willing to admit she has a problem.  Without “an admission that there is a problem, change is unlikely.”

Guardianship by Grandmother?

In her appeal, the mother argues that a guardianship by the maternal grandmother is the appropriate course of action rather than a termination of her parental rights.  However, the court notes that a guardianship is not a “preferred outcome” for a young infant.  The court describes that chaotic conditions in the parent’s lives and comes to the conclusion that the baby would not be able to return to the parents any time in the foreseeable future.

In Iowa, district probate courts have jurisdiction over guardianships.  Guardians are responsible for the physical custody of the ward.  Unlike conservators, they are not responsible for the ward’s financial decisions.

The baby was thriving under the maternal grandmother’s care, and the grandmother was willing to adopt. So, although the court was not required to terminate parental rights when there is a relative who has legal custody of the child (Iowa Code section 232.116(3)(a)), here the court felt it was necessary.  They did not find clear and convincing evidence that termination would be detrimental to the child (Iowa Code 232.116(3)(c)).

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