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Iowa Court of Appeals outlines analysis for parental rights’ termination and reunification extension

by Nicole Frazier | June 24, 2024

Minor child B.W. was exposed to drug use from the day he was born, testing positive for cocaine and initiating intervention by the Iowa District Court for Polk County.  In an effort to foster harmony and a healthy living environment for the child, Iowa Department of Health and Human Services attempted to assist the family with reunification services for over a year, but the attempts proved futile.  The juvenile court subsequently terminated parental rights for both parents.  The father appealed the decision, and in In the Interest of B.W., the Iowa Court of Appeals rejected the father’s arguments.

The father argued that his parental rights should not have been removed, but rather he should have been granted an extension for the reunification process.  The Iowa Court of Appeals followed In re Z.K., where they previously outlined the analysis the court considers when determining whether to terminate parental rights.  This three-factor approach includes the following: 1) whether a statutory ground for termination has been satisfied, 2) whether termination is in the child’s best interests, and 3) whether any permissive exception should be applied to preclude termination.  The parent challenging the termination of parental rights and requesting a reunification extension must therefore assert an appeal based on at least one of the three criteria, ultimately showing the juvenile court that if the court were to give a six-month extension, “the specific factors, conditions, or expected behavioral changes” that led to the court removing the child in the first place will no longer exist (Iowa Code § 232.104(2)(b)).

Applying the three-factor approach to this case, the Court of Appeals focused its attention on factor 3), which is whether any permissive exception should be applied to preclude termination.  The Court explained that permissive exceptions are those where “termination would be detrimental to the child due to the closeness of the parent-child relationship.”  Though the father made reference to a claimed bond, the Court concluded otherwise.  The Court pointed to several factors in its analysis, including the father’s repeated refusal to take drug tests, completion of one drug test that was positive for cocaine, and lack of effort to ensure consistent visitation.  In addition, the father’s comprehension of parental duties was found lacking, both with B.W. and the father’s other eight children.

The Court commended the father for his recent efforts to seek drug treatment in an in-patient facility and to embrace sobriety.  However, they questioned his ability to sustain these efforts enough to assume parental duties.  Ultimately, because the father was unable to overcome the history of parental difficulties and drug use with his newfound progress towards treatment, the Iowa Court of Appeals affirmed the juvenile court’s ruling for termination of parental rights and denial of a reunification extension.  The Court of Appeals agreed with the juvenile court in its analysis that “it cannot find evidence to support a pathway to reunification within six months, given the [case’s] history.”

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