Abandonment

In the Interest of V.A.H.

On June 13th, 2012, the Iowa Court of Appeals  entered a ruling in the case In The Interest of V.A.H., a termination of parental rights appeal from the Iowa District Court for Lee (North) County.  Thomas, the father/appellant, had his parental rights terminated after discontinuing his relationship with his child, V.A.H., born in March of 2008.  Thomas and the mother of the child, Jennifer were never married but lived together when the child was born until April 2009.  After ending their cohabitation, Thomas rarely visited the child and when he did, it was as a result of Jennifer’s planning.  Thomas did not pay child support, however did give the child a present of five dollars on his/her second birthday.

Approximately one year ago in June of 2011, Jennifer filed a petition  to terminate Thomas’s parental rights under Iowa Code chapter 600A (2011).  She claimed Thomas had abandoned the child.  This grounds for termination is codified in Iowa Code 600A.8(3)(b):

 

b.  If the child is six months of age or older when the

termination hearing is held, a parent is deemed to have abandoned the

child unless the parent maintains substantial and continuous or

repeated contact with the child as demonstrated by contribution

toward support of the child of a reasonable amount, according to the

parent’s means, and as demonstrated by any of the following:

(1)  Visiting the child at least monthly when physically and

financially able to do so and when not prevented from doing so by the

person having lawful custody of the child.

(2)  Regular communication with the child or with the person

having the care or custody of the child, when physically and

financially unable to visit the child or when prevented from visiting

the child by the person having lawful custody of the child.

(3)  Openly living with the child for a period of six months

within the one-year period immediately preceding the termination of

parental rights hearing and during that period openly holding himself

or herself out to be the parent of the child.

 

During depositions, Thomas claimed to desire a relationship with the child, but that it was impossible because he did not know where Jennifer lived and that Jennifer was not interested in allowing him visitation.  Thomas also testified however that he was aware that Jennifer worked at the same employer.

In November of 2011, the juvenile court terminating Thomas’s parental rights on the grounds of abandonment.

Termination of Parental Right’s Review by Iowa Court of Appeals

The Appeals Court of Iowa reviews termination proceedings under Iowa Code section 600A de novo.  A termination must be established by clear and convincing proof.  Once grounds for determination have been established, the court must also find that it is in the best interest of the child to proceed with the termination.

In this case, first abandonment must be shown.  The two elements  necessary to show abandonment are:

  • The giving up of parental rights and responsibilities
    • Requires affirmative parenting to the extent it is practical and feasible in the circumstances.  In re Goettsche, 311 N.W.2d 104, 106 (Iowa 1981)
    • A petitioner is not required to show total desertion in order to prove abandonment.  In re M.M.S., 502 N.W.2d 4, 8 (Iowa 1993)
  • An intent to forego these rights

Here, the juvenile court found that Jennifer was not an impediment to Thomas seeing the child.  In fact when he had seen the child, it had been because of her arranging the visit.  The court found that she had never denied him access to the child.

Best Interests of the Child

“Once the court has found a statutory ground for termination under a chapter 600A termination, the court must further determine whether the termination is in the best interest of the child.” In re A.H.B., 791 N.W.2d 687, 690 (Iowa 2010)

The court will consider, as detailed in Iowa Code section 232.116(2):

  • The child’s emotional and physical health
  • The physical, mental, and emotion condition and needs of the child
  • The closeness of the parent-child bond

The court explains that Thomas has not maintained contact with the child, has not supported the child financially, and has not affirmatively maintained a place of importance in the child’s life.  Therefore, the court affirms the juvenile court’s termination of Thomas’ parental rights.

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