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For 2024, we see no significant changes to guardianship laws in Iowa. There have not been many changes to Iowa's Guardianship laws since 2020, when the Iowa Minor Guardianship Proceedings Act was passed, which placed restrictions on guardians and strengthened biological parents' rights. However, Iowa's Supreme Court ruled in January of 2022, clarifying the new law for the first time since it was passed. This article will discuss this case and what it means for anyone involved in Guardianship cases in Iowa.
Iowa's Minor Guardianship Proceedings Act
The Iowa Minor Guardianship Proceedings Act is a recent guardianship law that imposes additional constraints on those who opt to serve as guardians of minors and enhances rights for biological parents, prospective guardians, and minors. This new act imposes restrictions on potential guardians, including:
- The requirement of a criminal background check
- A hearing to determine the necessity of the guardianship
- The need for parents’ consent in certain circumstances
What Rights Do Parents Have?
Parents have a fundamental liberty interest in the care, custody, and control of their children that is constitutionally protected. That interest includes a parent's fundamental right to make decisions regarding their children based on the "presumption that fit parents act in the best interests of their children." However, the interest and presumption do not apply to a parent that has been adjudicated to be an unfit parent.
The Iowa Minor Guardianship Proceedings Act mandates the following:
- Background checks, including a sex offender registry check, for all prospective guardians
- Specific responsibilities for guardians
- Legal representation for parents and children
Background checks play an essential role in safeguarding the rights of those involved in Iowa’s guardianship proceedings. They help ensure the safety and well-being of the individuals involved, including the child’s teachers and other individuals who interact with the child.
The clear obligations outlined in the Iowa Minor Guardianship Proceedings Act that are intended to reinforce rights include:
- Placing additional restrictions on guardians of minors
- Reinforcing the rights of biological parents
- Necessitating that the court appoint a court visitor for the minor
- Forbidding the same person from serving as both the attorney representing the minor and as a court visitor.
Furthermore, the act acknowledges the fundamental right of parents to the care, custody, and control of their children.
Do Parents Give Up Their Rights When Allowing Someone To Be A Guardian To Their Children?
The simple answer here is NO! Many states have made it clear that parents do not relinquish their fundamental liberty interest in raising their children by consenting to temporary guardianship.
The Iowa Supreme Court has said that parents should be encouraged to use guardianship to look for help with their children without the risk of losing custody permanently. There is a presumption that fit parents act in their children's best interest when seeking guardianship and terminating guardianship. Additionally, the court has said that the fact that a guardian is "an excellent parent to the child" or that "another home offers more advantages" will rarely be strong enough to interfere with parents' rights.
What Is The Burden Of Proof?
In this case, Iowa's Supreme Court clarified that clear and convincing evidence is the standard of proof in proceedings to terminate the guardianship. Clear and convincing evidence means "no serious or substantial doubts as to the correctness or conclusions of law drawn from the evidence." This essentially means that the evidence being presented to support the party who has the burden, in this case, would be the guardians, is substantially more likely to be true than untrue.
Who Has The Burden Of Proof When Terminating Guardianship In Iowa?
Termination of guardianship is the default when a parent revokes their consent to the guardianship, then the party favoring continuation of the guardianship has the burden of proof. In this case, the guardians would have the burden because they wanted to continue the guardianship over the mother's want to terminate the guardianship.
What Must Guardians Prove By Clear And Convincing Evidence?
The guardian must prove by clear and convincing evidence that
- Terminating the guardianship would be harmful to the minor AND
- The minor's interest in continuing the guardianship outweighs the interest of the parent.
Evidence showing that the guardians would provide better care to the child than the parents is insufficient to meet the standard. Again, it is inappropriate to focus on the parents' consent to guardianship as a reason not to terminate guardianship.
To show that terminating the guardianship would be harmful to the minor, a rigorous harm standard is required. This standard requires the guardian to show either physical harm or significant, long-term emotional harm that would result from the termination. The court stated that a child's anxiety over transitioning from one home to another "does not rise to the level of significant emotional harm that would rebut the parental presumption." Some things that would be considered would be parental unfitness or past abandonment of the child.
What Are The Facts Of this Case?
In 2014, teenage parents consented to the guardianship of their daughter by the father's parents, who was five years old at the time, so that the child would have the grandparent's health insurance and be able to travel with the grandparents. Since they were young, the teen parents also wanted to get their lives in order, so this guardianship gave them the opportunity to do that.
Mom maintained contact with her daughter by phone calls and visits during the period of the guardianship, and Dad had little contact with the daughter. Once Mom was able to get on her feet, she sought to get her daughter back and terminate the guardianship of the grandparents.
Mom tried to get help with terminating the guardianship a couple of times throughout the years, and in 2018 Mom tried to discuss the termination with Dad and Grandparents, but nothing came of it. Finally, in 2020, with the help of her family, Mom was able to hire an attorney to try and get her 11-year-old daughter back in her custody and terminate the guardianship.
Dad and Grandparents did not want the guardianship to end. Grandparents appealed the Juvenile Courts' decision that guardianship should be terminated. The Court of Appeals reversed that decision and decided the guardianship should continue. The case ultimately made it to the Supreme Court of Iowa.
What Was The Result?
Iowa's Supreme Court found that Mom revoked her consent to the guardianship and initiated termination by filing this case in the courts. The court also found that the Juvenile Court erred by placing the burden of proof on Mom and by using the preponderance of the evidence standard. Overall, the Supreme Court agreed with the Juvenile Court in ruling that guardianship should be terminated.
Further, the court agreed that Mom had a fundamental right to regain custody of her daughter, that she was not unfit, and that the termination would not harm the daughter. The court ordered the daughter be placed in Mom's custody and the guardianship terminated. However, Dad and Grandparents were still given regular visits with the child.
To learn more about Guardianship in Iowa, please visit and read some of our other articles. If you need help establishing or terminating a guardianship order, please reach out to us. To request a consultation with an Iowa Guardianship Attorney, call our office at (630) 324-6666 or you can also fill out our confidential contact form and we will get back to you shortly.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the new background check requirements for potential guardians in Iowa?
In Iowa, potential guardians must pass criminal, child abuse, dependent adult abuse, and sex offender registry checks to ensure their suitability.
How does juvenile court involvement affect the minor's rights in guardianship cases?
Juvenile court involvement can significantly affect a minor's rights in guardianship cases, as the court is responsible for deciding the minor's custody, visitation rights, and overall well-being.
What are the updated obligations for guardians in Iowa?
Guardians in Iowa must sign an agreement outlining their obligations, parent's responsibilities, and duration of guardianship.
How can fees for background checks be waived in Iowa guardianship cases?
In Iowa guardianship cases, fees for background checks can be waived if there is a justifiable cause, and the court has the authority to approve such a waiver.
What is the role of court-appointed visitors in guardianship cases?
Court-appointed visitors play an important role in guardianship cases by interviewing all involved parties and providing recommendations to the court for consideration.