On January 14, 2022, the Iowa Supreme Court issued an Opinion in the Matter of the Guardianship of L.Y. The case is the first interpretation of the new Guardianship Act which went into effect on January 1, 2020.
The case involved young parents who consented to a temporary guardianship for the paternal grandparents to serve as guardians of their five-year-old daughter so that the daughter could be placed on the grandparents’ medical insurance and easily travel with them on vacation. The guardianship was also to provide an opportunity for the parents to complete their divorce and to establish stable lives. The mother later sought to terminate the guardianship. The juvenile court ruled to terminate the guardianship and to return the child to the mother’s custody. The Iowa Court of Appeals reversed the juvenile court’s termination concluding that the new Act prevented the Court from applying a previously codified statutory preference favoring parents over all others in guardianship proceedings.
The Supreme Court found that the mother revoked her consent to the guardianship by commencing the proceedings. The Supreme Court noted that due to the mother revoking her consent, the grounds for creating a guardianship under Section 232D.203 no longer exists.
The Supreme Court cited Iowa Code Section 232D.503(2) which sets out the series of findings that a court must make to keep a guardianship in effect. The section provides as follows: The court shall terminate a guardianship established pursuant to section 232D.203 if the court finds that the basis for the guardianship set forth in section 232D.203 is not currently satisfied unless the court finds that the termination of the guardianship would be harmful to the minor and the minor’s interest in continuation of the guardianship outweighs the interest of a parent of the minor in the termination of the guardianship.
The Supreme Court noted that “the party favoring continuation of the guardianship has the burden of proof once consent is withdrawn”.
The Supreme Court next discussed the repeal of Section 633.559 of 2019 Iowa Code which favors a child’s parents over all others as guardian for the child. Such section was repealed by the new Guardianship Act. The Supreme Court noted that there is a common law parental preference which predates Section 633.559 and which survives its repeal. The Supreme Court found that the Iowa Court of Appeals interpretation of the new Guardianship Act eliminating the parental preference disregards Iowa case law recognizing the parental preference prior to codification.
The Supreme Court went on to state that the “parents fundamental right to the care, custody, and control of their children is seemingly meaningless without a preference for parents who have never been adjudicated unfit over all others in guardianship proceedings”. The Supreme Court concluded that “when interpreting Iowa Code section 232D.503, courts must start with the rebuttable presumption that the child’s best interests are served in the parents custody as opposed to all others”.
In regard to the applicable burden of proof in guardianship termination proceedings, the Supreme Court noted “before the new Guardianship Act took effect, guardians had to prove their case by clear and convincing evidence in view of the rebuttable presumption favoring natural parents in guardianship termination proceedings”. The Supreme Court concluded that under the new Act “the clear and convincing evidence standard is the appropriate one to apply in proceedings to terminate guardianships of minor children established with parental consent”.
The Supreme Court held that if a parent has never been adjudicated unfit and seeks to terminate a guardianship established by parental consent, the court starts with the rebuttable presumption that the best interests of the child are met by reuniting the child with the parent. The guardian has the burden of proof to show by clear and convincing evidence that the guardianship should continue because “termination of the guardianship would be harmful to the minor and the minor’s interest in continuation of the guardianship outweighs the interest of a parent of the minor in the termination of the guardianship”.