On 2/17/21, the Iowa Court of Appeals terminated a mother’s parental rights to three of her children in Re: DW, RW, and MW (20-0722). In this case, the parties divorced in 2014 and were each awarded shared care (50/50) of their children. Later, the mom began using meth, DHS got involved, CINA proceedings were initiated, and the CINA case concluded upon the parties’ agreement to modify their divorce decree to allow physical care of the children to change from “shared” by both parents to “primary” in the dad, with mom’s visitation to be solely within dad’s discretion (that type of order would normally be disallowed, so, it clearly was a consent-based modification). Dad also agreed in the physical care modification that mom would not have to pay him child support. That little “gift” later turned into a Trojan horse.
Fast forward post-divorce-modification: Dad tells mom that before she can see the kids, she has to complete treatment, stop her harassing communications, and resolve her criminal cases. Mom resolved her criminal cases, but did nothing else. When mom became disgruntled by dad’s ongoing refusal to let her see the kids, she petitioned to modify physical care and visitation, and dad responded by petitioning to terminate mom’s rights entirely.
The Court on Appeals held that it was “reasonable” for dad to condition mom’s visitation upon being treated for meth addiction, and so although he denied her visitation, which normally would be a defense to abandonment, in this case, the refusals were deemed reasonable. The Court also held that even though the divorce modification which reduced support to $0.00 was a binding order, mom still had a duty to support the kids financially, according to her means, under Chapter 600A. In the case, mom testified she earned over $14.00/hour and worked more than fifty hours per week, yet, she still sent no support for the kids. Based upon an abandonment theory, mom’s parental rights were terminated.
THE LESSONS HERE? A) Don’t use meth. B) Don’t get tricked by a court order saying you don’t need to support your kids. That kind of order can easily lull unwitting parents into a false sense of security. You CAN, and due to this case, probably WILL lose your parental rights if you don’t support your kids according to your means.
The “good” part of this opinion is that there was evidence the mom was verbally abusive to the children even texting her fourteen-year-old to “fuck off” and “Good fucking bye [l]ittle bitch just like your sister…Forget you even know me.” WE think if you’re going to treat your children like that, you probably don’t deserve them anyway. Verbal abuse is child abuse.
To read the opinion, click here: https://www.iowacourts.gov/courtcases/11607/embed/CourtAppealsOpinion
Jessica Zupp is an attorney in Denison, Iowa where she owns Zupp and Zupp Law Firm, P.C. with her twin sister, Jennifer. She specializes in Criminal Defense and Divorce and Family Law.