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Joseph Lyons

In this article we discuss how child custody is determined for teenage parents in Iowa, and what happens when parents are minors in Iowa. This article will discuss:

  • How is parenting time and responsibility determined in Iowa when parents are under 18?
  • Can grandparents be named guardian of a child when the parents are minors?
  • Can grandparents adopt a child when the parents are minors?
  • How could Child In Need of Assistance (CINA) cases impact minor parents?
  • What can minor fathers do in custody cases?

How is parenting time and responsibility determined in Iowa when parents are under 18?

In general, a teenage parents’ rights to their children are the same as any other parent, and the parent-child relationship is constitutionally protected. There is a presumption that a child’s best interests are best served by leaving the child in the care of the child’s parents. There is no distinction under Iowa law between adult parents or minor parents. However, when parents are teenagers the court is much more likely to question the parents’ maturity levels. The court is required to consider a number of factors when deciding custody, and the parents’ maturity levels could adversely affect how the court looks at the case. To learn more about what Iowa courts look at when they make custody determinations, click here.  

In any case which provides for temporary or permanent child support payments, if the parent ordered to pay support is less than eighteen, there are certain situations where the payor will be required to attend parenting classes.  

Can grandparents be named guardian of a child when the parents are minors?

If a child’s grandparents become guardians, they will become temporarily responsible for the child’s care and upbringing.  They will make decisions for the child until the child’s parents are mature enough to take over parental responsibilities. At that time, by agreement of the parties or petition of the parents, the court can terminate the guardianship. For more information, see our article on guardianships in Iowa here.  

There are certain benefits to guardianship. The main benefit is that the minor parents’ rights are not terminated. If a parent’s rights are terminated, the law treats biological parents and children as strangers. The biological parents have no right to see their children or make decisions for them, and they will not be kept updated about the child.  

If the grandparents are appointed as guardians, the guardianship will only last as long as necessary. There are provisions of the law requiring the guardian to make reasonable efforts to make sure the parents continue to have a relationship with the child. As the parents move to a point where they can effectively care for the child, they will be more likely to show the court they can resume primary care of the child.  

Can grandparents adopt a child when the parents are minors?

Under many situations, the child’s grandparents may adopt, provided there are not serious concerns in the grandparents’ history. If either grandparent has committed child abuse or other serious crimes, the grandparent may not be allowed to adopt. If the investigation goes well, the grandparents may be approved. The parents’ rights will need to be terminated. The parents could agree to voluntarily give up their parental rights. If one or both parents do not agree to give up their parental rights, the grandparent may or may not be able to bring a claim for termination of parental rights. The grandparent will have the ability to bring a petition to terminate parental rights if they are the child’s guardian or custodian (family member who has assumed responsibility for the child, appointed by the juvenile court).  If parental rights are terminated, the grandparent may file a petition for adoption. For more information on the Iowa adoption process, see our article here.  


How could Child In Need of Assistance (CINA) cases impact minor parents?

A child in need of assistance action, commonly referred to as a CINA (“China”) case, is a court action brought following a report of abuse made to the department of human services (DHS). DHS will decide whether abuse will be founded against a parent. DHS could remove the child from the home if it fears imminent danger to the child. If the child is founded to be a child in need of assistance, DHS and the court will give the parents certain tasks they will need to complete before they are deemed safe enough for the child to return to their care. If, after a period of time (about six months), the court finds the home is not safe enough to return to, the state of Iowa could file a petition to terminate the parents’ parental rights. There will then be a trial to determine whether the parent should be given more time to prove they can provide a safe home for the child. Read more about CINA cases here. Read more about involuntary termination here.  

There are many reasons that a CINA case could begin, but in general, DHS conducted a report which found the child suffered some injury, or will likely suffer some injury, due to the actions or inactions of the child’s parents or other caregiver.  

If a minor parent is the subject of a CINA case (meaning founded abuse against the baby’s grandparents), it is likely a CINA case will also be filed for the minor parent’s child.  

If a CINA case is filed against a minor parent, they must do everything DHS and the courts order them to do. CINA cases only stop if the parents comply with services ordered for them, and DHS and the courts find the home is safe for the child to return. Even if the home is not safe to return to following six months, a court and DHS are more likely to agree to allow more time if the parent has shown their willingness to improve and comply with services. If the case does move to termination proceedings, the parents can ask that the grandparents, or other appropriate family member adopt the child, or become guardians. This may be a better alternative than losing parental rights completely.

What can minor fathers do in custody cases?

If a minor father wishes to play a role in his child’s life, there are certain steps he can take.  

He first needs to establish paternity of the child. The most common way to do this is through signing the birth certificate. If his name is not on the birth certificate. He can also establish paternity through the mother and father signing an affidavit acknowledging his paternity. If the mother refuses to acknowledge his paternity, he can file a paternity petition with the court. As part of the case he will need to get a DNA test to prove he is the father.  

The father, even without establishing his paternity, can also file a Declaration of Paternity with the State Registrar of Vital statistics. This declaration will require the court to notify the father if the mother tries to put the child up for adoption. This declaration can also be used as evidence of the father trying to act as a parent in a later hearing.  Read more about the paternity process here; read more about what to do if you are not on the birth certificate here.  

Disclaimer: The information provided on this blog is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Each individual's legal needs are unique, and these materials may not be applicable to your legal situation. Always seek the advice of a competent attorney with any questions you may have regarding a legal issue. Do not disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.


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