Appeal from the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Ada County. Hon. Christopher M. Bieter, Magistrate Judge. Hon. Kathryn A. Sticklen, District Judge.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: W. Jones, Justice
This case involves a petition to terminate a guardianship filed by the natural parents (Mother and Father) of two minor children. The Guardians were appointed general guardians of the children after Mother and Father were arrested in Utah on drug charges. Mother and Father subsequently sought to terminate the guardianship on the ground that the circumstances giving rise to it had ended. The magistrate court found that it was not in the best interest of the children to terminate the guardianship and return custody to the parents, and denied the petition. The district court affirmed the magistrate's decision. Mother and Father argue on appeal that the magistrate court erred in requiring Mother and Father to show that termination of the guardianship was in the best interest of the children because they are entitled to a parental presumption of custody that precludes consideration of the best interest of the children once it is shown that the circumstances leading to the guardianship have ended.
II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Mother and Father are the natural parents of John and Jane Doe.*fn1 They are not married. On March 1, 2007, Mother and Father were pulled over while driving through the state of Utah with John and Jane in the car, and after approximately four pounds of marijuana and other drugs and paraphernalia were found in the car, they were both arrested.*fn2 Jane was three years old at the time, and John was one. Both Mother and Father have prior arrests and incarcerations in Idaho for various drug-related charges. Father was incarcerated in Utah and Mother was released and temporarily resided in Arizona. On March 5, 2007, a shelter hearing was held and the children were placed in the temporary custody of the State of Utah. On March 8, 2007 the Guardians filed a Petition for Guardianship of Jane and John in Idaho. On March 9, 2007, the Guardians were appointed temporary guardians of John and Jane by the magistrate court. That Order provided that the guardianship would terminate six months from the date of the Order or upon the appointment of a qualified person as guardian. Subsequently a hearing was held on the petition for guardianship. Mother was present at the hearing and seemed to consent to the guardianship, though her exact response is not fully reflected in the hearing transcript. The guardian ad litem attorney for the minor children stated at the hearing that both parents agreed there was a need for guardianship. The magistrate specifically told Mother at that hearing that once the general guardianship was appointed "[i]t can only end on a petition by somebody that the guardianship end and that it is in the children's best interest that it end." On May 1, 2007, the Guardians were appointed general guardians of John and Jane in an Order by the magistrate finding that all the requirements for guardianship were met under the Idaho Uniform Probate Code.
Mother and Father filed a petition to terminate the guardianship on July 2, 2007. The magistrate signed a stipulated order in August 2007 setting conditions for visitation by Mother and Father with the minor children, which included the requirement that the parents locate a counselor for those visitations.*fn3 Mother and Father filed another petition to terminate the guardianship on February 11, 2009. A hearing was held on July 17, 2009, and the magistrate made oral findings of fact that Mother and Father had not shown that terminating the guardianship and returning custody to Mother and Father was in the best interest of the children. He was particularly concerned with the lack of compliance by Mother and Father with the visitation order. At the time of the hearing, Jane was five years old and John was three. Mother and Father appealed to the district court, arguing that this Court's decision in In re Copenhaver, 124 Idaho 888, 865 P.2d 979 (1993), requires that the magistrate make a factual finding at the termination hearing that the parent has abused, neglected or abandoned the child, or is unable to provide a stable home environment for the child before considering the best interest of the child. The district court affirmed the decision of the magistrate.
1. Whether the magistrate erred in requiring Mother and Father to show it was in the best interest of Jane and John to terminate the guardianship.
2. Whether the magistrate's decision was supported by substantial and competent evidence.
"When reviewing a decision rendered by the district court in its appellate capacity under I.R.C.P. 83(a), this Court considers the record before the magistrate court independently of the district court, while giving due regard to the district court's analysis." Leavitt v. Leavitt, 142 Idaho 664, 668, 132 P.3d 421, 425 (2006). The "magistrate court's findings of fact shall be upheld if they are supported by substantial, competent evidence in the record." Marchbanks v. Roll, 142 Idaho 117, 119, 124 P.3d 993, 995 (2005). The Court is ...