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Cutback in Sobriety Services Due to COVID-19 Will Not Result in Additional Time for Reunification

For many in Iowa, the current covid-19 pandemic has meant a slower pace of life – more time at home, reduced outings and activities and, importantly, lots of extensions of important governmental deadlines (consider the extension of time for filing taxes this year, for example). The pandemic has also resulted in a sharp decline in the availability of in person meetings. Most services are able to adapt and offer virtual or online meetings. By now, however, all Americans know that while videoconferencing can get the job done, there is something lost when a face to face meeting isn’t available. This means that those who struggle with substance abuse addictions may find that the change to virtual meetings has been exceptionally difficult, as the inability to attend face to face counseling may result in relapse.


Parents who are in danger of having their parental rights terminated by the State of Iowa, however, should be aware that the Iowa Court system is consistently holding that covid-19 will not constitute a valid reason for obtaining additional time to stay clean and sober. In the case of the Interest of E.A., a mother appealing the termination of her parental rights argued that she should be granted additional time to work towards reunification with her child, pursuant to Iowa Code § 232.104. The mother pointed out that “the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in appointment cancellations and modified visitations.” The Court of Appeals shot back: “Life is unpredictable. Parents must adapt to unplanned situations and overcome unexpected challenges. We will not delay permanency for the children simply because of unexpected changes in services offered to the mother.” Interest of E.A., 2020 WL 4498164 (Iowa App., Aug. 5, 2020).


A similar approach was taken by the Court of Appeals in the Interest of W.L. In W.L., a father had been progressing with his semi-supervised visits with his child prior to the pandemic. Once the pandemic hit, he was forced to stop those visits. He argued that “but for” the pandemic, the semi-supervised visits would have continued and his termination hearing would have been continued or cancelled. The Court of Appeals called this argument “speculative,” upheld the termination of parental rights and stated that the fathers progress to semi-supervised visits was a “far cry from the ability to resume full-time care of a child…the father’s shortcomings that prevented him from resuming full-time care of the child existed before the COVID-19 pandemic began.” Interest of W.L., 2020 WL 5229199 (Iowa App. Sept. 2, 2020).


In sum, the Court of Appeals seems willing to agree that the pandemic has not made life easier, especially for those that struggle with addiction. “Christian claims the changes in visits because of COVID-19 affected her ability to meet case expectations. We acknowledge the restrictions did not help.” Interest of P.N., 2020 WL 6482091 (Iowa App. Nov. 4, 2020). The pandemic, however, appears to be a new reality of life for all Iowans, and not something that specifically impact one group more so than others. Any parent appealing termination of parental rights should therefore not expect leniency from the Court, especially if there is evidence in the record of prior relapses or noncompliance with a reunification plan. “We are sensitive to the frustration and difficulties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and such difficulties may give rise to continuances or extensions. However, here the mother was already granted a delay of about three months by the juvenile court and the mother relapsed.” Interest of H.Q., No. 20-1081, 2020 WL 6482076 (Iowa Ct. App. Nov. 4, 2020).


Author Ben Arato practices family law at Wandro & Associates. If you have questions about your family law issue, he has answers. Call Wandro & Associates at (515) 281-1475 or email Ben at barato@2501grand.com to set up your free consultation today.

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