In a system which often penalizes dads for not working overtime, the Iowa Supreme Court upheld the termination of a father’s parental rights for doing the exact opposite. The opinion, Case No. 20-0582: In the Interest of Z.P., Minor Child, filed September 4, 2020, concluded that the father could not afford to quit his second full-time job, and instead released the child for adoption.
Mother Loses Custody After Abusing Older Sibling
The child, named Z.P. in the case, was born in 2016 to the mother, listed as H.P, and a father, listed as F.M. The baby lived with H.P. and two half-siblings and saw F.M. infrequently. All three children were removed in 2018 when DHS found H.P. had abused the oldest child in the home.
The children were placed in foster care homes and shelter care. F.M. attempted to take custody of his child, but DHS determined he didn’t have the time or experience needed to care for Z.P. They ordered him to take parenting classes and participate in supervised visitation.
They say the primary reason behind this was F.M.’s hectic work schedule. He had two full-time jobs, working up to 18 hours most days, leaving little time for interaction. During visits, social workers say he babied Z.P. He fed her when she could feed herself and talked to her in babytalk. Z.P. was two years old at the time.
F.M. completed two parenting classes and advanced to semi-supervised visits, but he had no quit either of his jobs by the time the termination hearing came around. DHS also pointed to his age and inexperience. F.M. was 60 years old and had never raised a child. He lived in a one-room apartment.
Based on this, DHS and the guardian ad litem for Z.P. recommended termination. The court granted their request and cleared the child for adoption. The father appealed, saying he told DHS he would quit his second job once he got custody of his daughter.
Iowa Supreme Court Upholds Termination
F.M. appealed the ruling because the case did not seem to meet the requirements for termination outlined by the State of Iowa. Z.P. was never removed from his care. Because this argument hadn’t been raised during the termination trial, the state supreme court refused to consider it. Moreover, the court ruled that removal from the mother was sufficient.
The father also said the state had no grounds to think he’d be unfit. In response, they pointed to a lack of knowledge, time and preparation. By the termination hearing, he had not quit his second job. He didn’t have a childcare provider lined up. He didn’t have a driver’s license or a plan for transportation. He hadn’t purchased a bed for her to sleep on in his apartment.
It was also concluded that she was more bonded to her pre-adoptive foster family than to F.M.
Some people will read that opinion and think the state acted in the child’s best interests, but you have to stop and ask some simple questions. What was being taught in those parenting classes? How far did the state go in trying to reunify this child with her parent? How big of a role did gender, race and economic status play in the outcome?
Fathers who are faced with this kind of situation should start living from day one as though they will get custody of their children. They should have a safe place for their children to sleep, reliable transportation, a reliable work schedule, and professional connections like daycare providers and doctors lined up in advance. Most importantly, you have to make sure you raise essential legal concerns during your hearings.
Looking for a father-friendly lawyer or organization that might be able to help? Start with our “how to find a good lawyer for fathers” page here.
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