Justia Iowa Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Family Law
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A father going through a contentious divorce was accused by his young daughter of sexual abuse. A Department of Human Services social worker observed the forensic interview, believed it was credible, obtained additional information primarily from the mother, and obtained an ex parte court order requiring the father to leave the family home. An ensuing adversary proceeding determined that the allegation was unfounded and that the mother had “wanted [the father] out of the house.” The DHS finding was set aside and, eventually, the father obtained physical care of the children. In the father's subsequent suit, the district court granted the defendants summary judgment.The Iowa Supreme Court affirmed. The claim of intentional interference with the parent-child relationship fails because that claim applies to extralegal actions— such as absconding with a child—not to judicially-approved acts. The claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress fails because the conduct here did not reach the level of an “outrage” necessary to sustain such a claim. The unreasonable search and seizure claim cannot succeed because there was no showing that the DHS social worker falsified the affidavit she submitted to the court or that the removal order would not have been granted without her questioned statements. The substantive due process claim fails because DHS’s conduct does not “shock the conscience.” A procedural due process claim cannot prevail because the father was provided with adequate process, which ultimately cleared his name. View "Lennette v. State of Iowa" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the juvenile court declining to remove the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) as the guardian of certain children, holding that DHS acted unreasonably in failing to send relative notices as to the removal of the children and in failing to serve the children's best interests.The children at issue lived in their stepgrandmother's care for approximately eighteen months after they were adjudicated as children in need of assistance. The parental rights of the children's parents was subsequently terminated by the juvenile court. Later, acting as the children's guardian, DHS entered the children's home on the pretext of a visit and abruptly removed the children from their stepgrandmother's care to place them in foster care with strangers. The children's guardian ad litem filed motions for the immediate return of the children to their step grandmother, for a hearing on modification of placement, and to remove DHS as guardian. The juvenile court declined to remove DHS as the guardian. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the DHS acted unreasonably by making the sudden change to the children's placement. View "In re K.D." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and vacated in part the judgment of the court of appeals in this dissolution of marriage proceeding, holding that, contrary to the judgment of the lower court, Husband's concealment of a certain pension was intrinsic fraud.Throughout negotiation within the proceedings below, Husband failed to disclose his GE retirement pension. After Wife discovered the omission five years later she brought this action seeking to modify the dissolution decree by awarding her part of the pension, alleging extrinsic fraud. In response, Husband argued that the alleged fraud was intrinsic and that reasonable diligence on Wife's part would have led to the discovery of his pension within one year after entry of the order. The district court entered judgment for Wife. The court of appeals reversed in part, holding that the district court properly found the fraud was extrinsic but erred in determining that Wife would not have found the pension with reasonable diligence. The Supreme Court vacated in part, holding (1) Husband's concealment of the GE pension was intrinsic fraud; and (2) Wife would have discovered the pension within one year with reasonable diligence. View "In re Marriage of Hutchinson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed the ruling of the juvenile court that the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) did not apply to the termination of parental rights proceedings below, holding that the juvenile court did not err in determining that Z.K. was not an "Indian child" under ICWA.After holding a hearing on the applicability of ICWA the juvenile court concluded that ICWA remained inapplicable to Z.K. Turning to the merits, the juvenile court found that the State's reasonable efforts to avoid the out-of-home placement had been unsuccessful and proceeded to terminate the parents' parental rights to Z.K. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the juvenile court properly determined that Z.K. did not meet the definition of "Indian child" under the applicable ICWA statutes. View "In re Z.K." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court further modified a hybrid traditional and rehabilitative alimony award that the court of appeals modified in this case, holding that this Court hereby adopts transitional alimony as another tool to do equity in calculating spousal support.In this divorce action, the district court entered a decree dissolving the parties' seventeen-year marriage, ordering shared custody and physical care of the children, and diving the marital property. On appeal, the court of appeals increased the spousal support award and recalculated Husband child support obligation. On appeal, Husband argued that the increase in the spousal support award and duration was excessive and unnecessary. The Supreme Court affirmed the decision as modified, holding that the alimony is modified as to the amount and duration and that this modification required a recalculation of child support. View "In re Marriage of Pazhoor" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the juvenile court terminating the parental rights with respect to two Indian children under the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), 25 U.S.C. 1903(4), and Iowa Code chapter 232B (Iowa ICWA), holding that the juvenile court erred in considering the best interests of the children on the narrow question of transfer to the tribal court.In 2018, the State commenced child-in-need-of-assistance proceedings involving the older child, and in 2019, the Sate commenced CINA proceedings against the younger child. The Omaha Tribe of Nebraska & Iowa (Tribe) was granted intervention and subsequently filed a motion to transfer the case to tribal court. The juvenile court denied the motion to transfer on the ground that it would not be in the best interests of the children. The court then terminated the parental rights of both parents. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the juvenile court erred in denying the Tribe's motion to transfer jurisdiction. View "In re T.F." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the juvenile court terminating Father's parental rights to his child, holding that the juvenile court erred when it terminated Father's parental rights because the child was not adjudicated a child in need of assistance (CINA).The juvenile court ultimately concluded that it could terminate Father's parental rights because the child was previously adjudicated CINA in a previous CINA proceeding that resulted in a guardianship. The court then terminated Father's rights under Iowa Code 232.116(1)(f) and (g). The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case for further proceedings, holding that a prior CINA adjudication in a closed case cannot be utilized to meet the statutory requirements of 232.116(1)(f) and (g) for a second CINA proceeding. View "In re L.B." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court vacated the decision of the court of appeals and affirmed the juvenile court's order terminating a guardianship of a minor child that was established with parental consent, holding that there was no error.Young parents consented to a temporary guardianship for the paternal grandparents to serve as guardians of their minor daughter so that the parents could establish stability in their lives. After achieving that stability, Mother sought to terminate the guardianship. The juvenile court entered a termination order, concluding that the child's long-term interests warranted terminating the guardianship. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the juvenile court properly terminated the guardianship and placed the child in Mother's care pending modification of the parents' dissolution decree to establish physical and legal custody. View "In re Guardianship of L.Y." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the juvenile court terminating Father's parental rights to his child, holding that the juvenile court did not err in terminating Father's parental rights.The juvenile court concluded that the State proved the grounds for termination and terminated Father's parental rights. Father's counsel filed a motion for belated appeal, which the Supreme Court granted. The Supreme Court then affirmed, holding that the State proved by clear and convincing evidence that the bases for termination under both Iowa Code 232.116(1)(3) and 232.116(1)(h) were satisfied and that no exceptions in Iowa Code 232.116(3) applied to preclude the termination. View "In re W.T." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court vacated in part the decision of the court of appeals affirming the district court's ruling that Iowa Code chapter 411 ordinary disability benefits are marital property, holding that chapter 411 ordinary disability benefits replace income that an individual would have earned if not for an injury causing the disability and should be treated as income rather than as property.The district court entered a dissolution decree dissolving the marriage of Matt and Karri Miller. The district court determined that Matt's chapter 411 ordinary disability benefit was marital property subject to division. The court of appeals affirmed. At issue before the Supreme Court was whether Matt's future disability benefit was income or property. The Supreme Court vacated in part the court of appeals' decision and let the rest of the court of appeals' opinion stand on the remaining issues, holding that Matt's future disability benefit is a replacement for income and not part of the marital pot to be divided upon dissolution. View "In re Marriage of Miller" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law