IN THE COURT OF APPEALS OF IOWA
Filed March 3, 2021
IN THE INTEREST OF S.J.,
Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Jasper County, Steven J. Holwerda,
District Associate Judge.
A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights. AFFIRMED.
Dusty Lea Clements of Clements Law and Mediation, Newton, for appellant
Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Kathryn K. Lang, Assistant
Attorney General, for appellee State.
Meegan M. Keller of Keller Law Office, Altoona, attorney and guardian ad
litem for minor child.
Considered by May, P.J., and Greer and Schumacher, JJ.
MAY, Presiding Judge.
A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to her child, S.J.
The mother claims (1) termination is not in S.J.’s best interest, (2) S.J.’s placement
with the father should preclude termination, and (3) the juvenile court should have
granted the mother additional time to work toward reunification. We affirm.
We review termination proceedings de novo. In re Z.P.,
948 N.W.2d 518
522 (Iowa 2020). “We will uphold an order terminating parental rights where there
is clear and convincing evidence of the statutory grounds for termination. Evidence
is clear and convincing when there is no serious or substantial doubt as to the
correctness of the conclusions of law drawn from the evidence.” In re T.S.,
868 N.W.2d 425
, 431 (Iowa Ct. App. 2015) (citation omitted).
We generally use a three-step analysis to review the termination of a
parent’s rights. In re A.S.,
906 N.W.2d 467
, 472 (Iowa 2018). We must determine:
(1) whether grounds for termination have been established, (2) whether
termination is in the child’s best interest, and (3) whether we should exercise any
of the permissive exceptions to termination.
Id. at 472–73.
“However, if a parent
does not challenge a step in our analysis, we need not address it.” In re J.P.,
2020 WL 110425
, at *1 (Iowa Ct. App. Jan. 9, 2020). Finally, we
address any additional claims brought by the mother. In re K.M., No. 19-1637,
2020 WL 110408
, at *1 (Iowa Ct. App. Jan. 9, 2020).
Here, the court found grounds authorizing termination pursuant to Iowa
Code section 232.116(1)(e) and (f) (2020). The mother conceded S.J. could not
be returned to her care at the time of the termination hearing, which serves as a
basis for termination. See Iowa Code § 232.116(1)(f)(4). And the mother does not
challenge the statutory grounds for termination on appeal. So we need not
address this step of our analysis.
We move on to the second step in our analysis, which requires us to
determine whether termination is in S.J.’s best interest. We “give primary
consideration to the child’s safety, to the best placement for furthering the long-
term nurturing and growth of the child, and to the physical, mental, and emotional
condition and needs of the child.” In re P.L.,
778 N.W.2d 33
, 40 (Iowa 2010)
(quoting Iowa Code § 232.116(2)). “It is well-settled law that we cannot deprive a
child of permanency after the State has proved a ground for termination under
section 232.116(1) by hoping someday a parent will learn to be a parent and be
able to provide a stable home for the child.”
Id. at 41.
The mother argues termination is not in S.J.’s best interest. We disagree.
We look to the mother’s past performance as an indicator of the care she is likely
to provide in the future. See In re C.K.,
558 N.W.2d 170
, 172 (Iowa 1997). And
the mother’s past performance raises substantial concerns about the future. She
has struggled both with methamphetamine abuse and admitting she has a
substance-abuse problem. While we commend the mother’s recent realization that
she has a substance-abuse problem, her history gives us little confidence that her
relationship with methamphetamine is over.1 Moreover, throughout the life of this
case, the mother has been unreliable. A social worker testified the mother
attended just thirty-nine percent of visits with S.J. that were offered to her. S.J.
1 The mother entered substance-abuse treatment roughly two weeks prior to the
termination hearing even though this case had been open for eighteen months.
And she admitted she was using methamphetamine daily just prior to entering
deserves more. She deserves stability, permanency, and predictability, which she
can only get through termination. Termination is in S.J.’s best interest.
We move to our third step, whether we should apply a section 232.116(3)
exception to preclude termination. The mother argues termination is not necessary
because S.J. was in the father’s custody at the time of the termination hearing.
From this, we infer she is attempting to invoke section 232.116(3)(a), which
authorizes the juvenile court to forgo termination if “[a] relative has legal custody
of the child.” But section 232.116(3) exceptions are permissive, not mandatory.
In re A.R.,
932 N.W.2d 588
, 591 (Iowa Ct. App. 2019). And the burden of
establishing an exception rests with the mother. See
A.S., 906 N.W.2d at 476
But the mother does not provide a compelling argument. She simply argues
nothing much would change for S.J. since she will remain in her father’s custody
regardless of whether the mother’s rights are terminated. This argument shows
the mother’s lack of insight into S.J.’s inherent need for permanency. Our Code
recognizes certain timelines for these proceedings. See, e.g., Iowa Code
§ 232.116(1)(e)(2), (f)(3). These timelines exist because we cannot hold children
in limbo indefinitely. See
Z.P., 948 N.W.2d at 523
. And forgoing termination would
only subject S.J. to continued, unjustified limbo. So we decline to apply
Finally, we address the mother’s argument that she should be given an
additional six months to work toward reunification. The juvenile court may defer
termination for a period of six months if it is able to “enumerate the specific factors,
conditions, or expected behavioral changes which comprise the basis for the
determination that 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). We agree with the juvenile court that the mother should not be
given additional time to work toward reunification.
The mother argues she will be in a position for S.J. to return to her care
once she completes her inpatient treatment program. We believe the mother when
she stated, “I’m trying really hard, and I want nothing more than to get my kid back
in my care.” But we also recognize the cruel reality of substance abuse. Relapse
is not unlikely. Even assuming the mother completes her substance-abuse
treatment in six months’ time, she would not have sufficient time to demonstrate
lasting sobriety to permit reunification. See J.P.,
2020 WL 110425
, at *2 (finding
the children could not be returned to the father’s care when he had a history of
consistent methamphetamine use and a short period of sobriety because “we
fear[ed] relapse [was] likely”). While this may seem harsh, we note the mother
waited eighteen months before entering substance-abuse treatment. So she had
time to address the barriers to reunification. She simply failed to use the time
available to her. And now we cannot point to any specific and lasting change we
anticipate will occur within the next six months that would facilitate reunification
and warrant granting additional time.
For the foregoing reasons, we affirm the juvenile court’s order terminating
the mother’s parental rights.