A parent, custodian, or guardian of a child may desire to file a private termination of parental rights action in Iowa under Iowa Code Chapter 600A. A private termination of parental rights action is voluntary; neither the State of Iowa or the Iowa Department of Human Services is involved as a party to the action. In contrast, termination actions under Chapter 232 are involuntary and are commenced after the conclusion of an underlying child in need of assistance action.
Frequently, private termination actions are filed to allow for a stepparent to adopt when the non-custodial parent is unwilling to consent to termination of parental rights. If the non-custodial parent consents to termination of parental rights and adoption by the stepparent, then the stepparent can request the court to terminate the non-custodial parent’s rights and order the adoption in one proceeding, as opposed to filing separate petitions to request termination and adoption.
Reasons or grounds for a private termination of parental rights action include the following: 1) the parent has signed a release of custody that has not been revoked; 2) the parent seeks termination of their own rights; 3) a parent has abandoned the child; 4) the parent has failed to pay child support without good cause; 5) a parent does not object to termination after given proper notice; 6) a parent does not object to termination even though every reasonable effort has been made to give notice to that parent; 7) an adoptive parent requests termination because of the adoption was fraudulently induced; 8) the parent is a chronic substance abuse user and has committed a second or subsequent domestic abuse assault AND the parent has abducted the child, has improperly removed the child from the physical custody of the person entitled to custody without consent, or has improperly retained the child after a visit; 9) the parent has been imprisoned for a crime against the child, the child’s sibling, or another child in the home or the parent has been imprisoned and is unlikely to be released for five or more years; and 10) the parent has been convicted of a felony sex offense against a minor, the parent is divorced from or was never married to the minor’s other parent, and the parent is serving a minimum prison sentence of five years.
A private termination action is initiated by filing a petition with the juvenile court. Once the petition is filed, a guardian ad litem must be appointed to represent the child’s interests. Next, all necessary parties are served with the petition and the notice of termination hearing. Necessary parties include the child, the parents, the guardian, the custodian, the guardian ad litem, and any person standing in the place of the parents of the child. A child’s parent has the right to counsel and may qualify for court-appointed counsel under certain circumstances.
At the termination hearing, the court will hear all relevant evidence and testimony. The court must determine if one or more of the grounds has been proven and whether termination is in the child’s best interest. After a hearing, the court may either dismiss the petition or grant it. If a petition is granted, the court must appoint a guardian and a custodian or a guardian only.