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In Re the Marriage of Keith A. Friedmann and Jolene E. Friedmann

May 15, 2013


Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Dubuque County, Michael J. Shubatt, Judge.

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

Keith Friedmann challenges a district court's modification order. AFFIRMED.

Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Tabor and Mullins, JJ.

Keith and Jolene Friedmann were divorced in August 2010. The decree awarded Jolene physical care of their two children. Thirteen months later, Keith asked the court to place the children in his care. Jolene countered with a request to modify child support. The court declined to modify the care arrangement, finding no material and substantial change in circumstances. But the court did increase Keith's child support obligation and added a cash medical support requirement. Keith appeals the physical care and support rulings.

Like the district court, we do not see enough variance in the children's situation to justify changing the physical care arrangement. They relocated with their mother to her hometown in Illinois, ninety-three miles away from Keith's residence. But in the district court's words: "Other than the fact that Jolene moved to Mount Carroll, little appears to have changed since the first trial." Accordingly, we affirm the custody order. We also agree with the district court's handling of the cash medical support issue.

I. Background facts and proceedings

At the time of the dissolution in 2010, the parties' son, C.F., was seven and their daughter, I.F., was five years old. C.F. has disabilities due to exposure to drugs and alcohol during Jolene's pregnancy. He also suffered from shaken baby syndrome at the hands of an unknown perpetrator. The ability to administer to C.F.'s medical and therapeutic needs is a point of contention between the parties.

Keith is a self-employed chiropractor, averaging approximately $70,000 in annual earnings. He lives in Guttenberg. Jolene obtained an Iowa license as a Certified Nursing Assistant, but did not seek employment in that capacity in Mount Carroll, Illinois, where she now lives with the children. She most recently worked in a factory, and is now attending night school to earn her nursing degree.

The original dissolution decree ordered joint custody and placed physical care of the children with Jolene. The district court found both parents had been active in the care of the children. The court also noted a "great deal of animosity" between the parents and "substantial problems communicating regarding the welfare of the children." The court ultimately concluded: "Jolene is the parent best able to provide for the care and needs of the children, and the parent best able to support the other parent's relationship with the children." The decree ordered Keith to pay $638 per month in child support and cash medical support in the amount of $224 per month.

Keith filed a motion under Iowa Rule of Civil Procedure 1.904(2), asking the court to remove the cash medical support order and replace it with a directive to provide medical insurance if it was available at a reasonable cost. The motion asserted that because the children were covered by Title 19, Jolene would not receive the cash medical support and that the Iowa Child Support Recovery Unit approved the proposed change in medical support. On November 5, 2010, the court granted Keith's request, deleting the cash medical support order and substituting the health insurance language.

Keith did not appeal the original decree. Instead, he filed a petition to modify the decree on September 15, 2011. He alleged the following as substantial changes in circumstances: (1) Jolene's move to Mount Carroll; (2) her failure to provide the children with a healthy diet and exercise, resulting in their "significant weight gain"; and (3) Jolene's "continue[d]" interference with his relationship with the children.

After hearing four days of testimony on the modification issues, the court concluded: "There has been no material and substantial change in circumstances since the entry of the decree." The court increased Keith's visitation. The court also refigured Keith's child support obligation, concluding he should pay $1117 in child support each month and ordered cash medical support of $313 per month. Keith challenged the cash medical support payment in a post-trial filing. The court rejected Keith's challenge, finding cash medical support was mandated by statute. Keith now contests the district court's physical care and support decisions.

II. Scope and Standards of Review.

Because an action to modify a dissolution decree is an equitable proceeding, we review the ruling de novo. In re Marriage of Brown, 778 N.W.2d 47, 50 (Iowa Ct. App. 2009). Although we are not bound by them, we accord weight to the factual findings, and give ...

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