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In Re the Marriage of Sara

January 9, 2013

IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF SARA COFFMAN AND JAMES COFFMAN UPON THE PETITION OF SARA COFFMAN, PETITIONER-APPELLANT, AND CONCERNING JAMES COFFMAN, RESPONDENT-APPELLEE.


Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Scott County, John D. Telleen, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Danilson, J.

Sara Coffman challenges the child custody and support provisions of the parties' dissolution decree. AFFIRMED.

Considered by Potterfield, P.J., and Danilson and Tabor, JJ.

Sara Coffman challenges the child custody and support provisions of the parties' dissolution decree. The district court awarded the parties joint legal custody of their two children, with James (Jim) Coffman being awarded physical care, ordered Sara to pay child support in accordance with the child support guidelines, and did not award Sara alimony. Upon our de novo review, and giving proper deference to the court's credibility findings, we affirm.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

Sara and Jim were married in May 1994. Each has worked for the United States government for many years: Sara is employed as an equipment specialist for the Rock Island Arsenal for the Department of the Army and earns in excess of $89,000 per year; Jim is the Director of Logistics at the arsenal and earns approximately $155,000 per year. The parties separated in May 2010. They have two children: a daughter, age three at the time of trial; and a son, age fifteen.

At the time of trial in January and February 2012, the parties agreed that their son would live with Jim, but disagreed as to the daughter's physical care. Following a five-day trial, the court ruled:

It is clear to the Court from the evidence . . . that shared care of the [daughter] is inappropriate because of the extraordinary degree of conflict between the parties and the almost total lack of effective communication which is primarily due to Sara's behavior. This leaves the Court with the task of awarding one of the parties primary care, with liberal visitation to the other.

The Court did not find Sara Coffman to be a credible witness, both by her demeanor and the content of her testimony. She was frequently evasive in answering direct questions and instead tended to use questions to tell the Court what she wanted to say. She was also impeached on a number of occasions.

The evidence in this case clearly demonstrates Sara to be a woman who became so enraged or hurt over learning of an alleged affair by her husband that she engaged in a campaign to seek revenge against Jim including attempting to cut off Jim's access to the children, making false domestic abuse allegations, frequently calling the police with unfounded claims and in general attempting to disrupt and poison Jim's relationship with both children. Her behavior abundantly demonstrates her willingness to put her own misguided need for revenge above the best interests of her children and engage in almost appalling acts in order to do so.

The bottom line is that both parents were doing a good job of raising their children prior to the breakdown of the marital relationship. Where the parties drastically diverge in their parenting ability is their capacity to work with the other and support the other's relationship with the children.

The district court awarded physical care of the daughter to James, concluding that Sara's behavior has been extreme and damaging to the children and shown her ready willingness to place her own desire for revenge and her own bitterness above the best interests of their children. The Court thinks the pervasiveness of her behavior is such that it was not simply situational, related to the breakup of the marriage, but is likely to be repeated in the future and raises questions as to her mental health stability. The Court concludes that Jim is better able to provide for the emotional, social, moral, material, and educational needs of the children. The interpersonal relationship between [mother and son] is currently nonexistent.

The son has a very deep bond with his [sister] and it would be disrupting and damaging for the children to separate them. . . .

Both parties and Dr. McEchron and Anne McDonald testified that there was an extraordinary bond between [siblings]. While [the boy] is considerably older than [his sister], the Court has considered this factor and ...


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