In my eleven years as a practicing attorney, I’ve completed estate plans for individuals in their final days of life, served as Guardian Ad Litem for children who have endured bullying and abuse, listened to and counseled clients as they cry in my office because they were just served with divorce papers or lost a loved one, represented clients at trial and defended them on appeal, etc. While these things often tug at my heart strings and take a great deal of my focus and energy, by far the most difficult job I have is being a parent to my two daughters. Parenting is challenging to say the least. Unfortunately, in some cases, a parent becomes unwilling to genuinely attempt to fulfill their parental role, acknowledging of course this role looks different for every person.
By law, the best interest of a child requires the biological parents “affirmatively assume the duties encompassed by the role of being a parent.” So what is the role of a parent? Under Chapter 600A of the Iowa Code, the Court is required to consider things like financial support, demonstration of a continued interest in the child, a genuine effort to communicate with the child, and establishing and maintaining a place of importance in the child’s life. Individuals and families are unique, and a parent may encounter certain obstacles which limits his/her ability to fulfill some or all of these areas. Those obstacles are generally understood and do not mean the parent is not reasonably attempting to fulfill his or her parental role.
Because it is assumed it is in a child’s best interest to legally have two parents (assuming both are living), the Juvenile Court requires the petitioner (e.g. the State, the other parent, the legal guardian, etc.) to prove their case by clear and convincing evidence.
The Iowa Code (like Nebraska and South Dakota) sets forth the grounds for terminating parental rights, some of which include:
1. The parent signed a release of custody which has not been revoked or doesn’t object after having been served with the petition to terminate parental rights;
2. Abandonment of the child;
3. A parent was ordered to support the child financially and has failed to do so without cause;
4. The parent has been found to have a substance-related disorder and has committed a second or subsequent domestic abuse assault;
5. The parent is imprisoned for a crime against a child, the child’s sibling, or another child in the household, or the parent has been imprisoned and its not likely the parent will be released from prison for at least five years;
6. The parent has been convicted of a felony sex offense against a minor, is serving a minimum sentence of confinement for at least five years, and the parent is divorced from or was never married to the minor’s other parent; or
7. The Court finds by clear and convincing evidence the child was conceived as a result of sexual abuse.
Even if the petitioner proves by clear and convincing evidence that one or more of the grounds for termination exist, the petitioner must still prove terminating the parent’s rights is in the child’s best interest. In other words, terminating parental rights comes with a very high burden of proof and is more difficult than many people think. That said, it is possible if the facts are sufficient under the law and ultimately, it’s in the best interest of the child.
The information contained above is for informational purposes only, and is not legal advice or a substitute for legal counsel. You should not act or rely upon this information.