IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF MICHAEL DAVID SCHMIDT AND LISA GAIL SCHMIDT Upon the Petition of MICHAEL DAVID SCHMIDT, Petitioner-Appellee, And Concerning LISA GAIL SCHMIDT, Respondent-Appellant.
Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Glenn E. Pille, Judge.
Lisa Schmidt appeals the district court's denial of her application to modify the physical care provisions of a dissolution decree.
Bruce H. Stoltze of Stoltze & Updegraff, P.C., Des Moines, for appellant.
Andrew B. Howie of Hudson, Mallaney, Shindler & Anderson, P.C., West Des Moines, for appellee.
Considered by Vogel, P.J., and Vaitheswaran and Doyle, JJ.
We must decide whether the district court acted equitably in declining to modify a physical care arrangement.
I. Background Facts and Proceedings
Lisa and Michael Schmidt married in 1984. They had four children, the youngest of whom sustained a brain injury that resulted in developmental delays. An individualized education program (IEP) was implemented to govern his schooling in the Des Moines public school system.
After twenty-one years of marriage, Lisa moved to New England, leaving the three children who were still minors with Michael. The couple divorced in 2007. They stipulated that Michael would have physical care of the children.
One month after the decree was filed, Lisa applied to modify the physical care provision. The district court denied the modification request. The court observed that the children's guardian ad litem and psychologist "both appear to be of the opinion that a change in custody at this time would be difficult for the children[, ] that the children would be hesitant to make the change, and that such a change in residence to New Hampshire may actually damage the children's relationship with [Lisa]."
The parents continued to disagree on a variety of issues and the court enlisted a parenting coordinator to assist them. The coordinator submitted recommendations on several issues, including the youngest child's IEP. She explained that the child would be changing schools and had the option of attending a traditional middle school or Ruby Van Meter (RVM), a school with an alternative learning environment. She stated that Michael was supportive of RVM, whereas Lisa believed the child should be "mainstreamed" in a traditional classroom. The parenting coordinator opined that
[I]t is in [the child's] best interest to complete the transition as proposed by the school and then to attend RVM . . . . [T]he RVM program would provide [the child] with a positive learning environment and will best prepare him for long-term success. Michael should make the necessary arrangements for [the child] to transition to RVM immediately.
Meanwhile, Lisa raised a due process challenge to the child's IEP, which was considered by the Iowa Department of Education. In that proceeding, Lisa proffered reports from New Hampshire professionals on the purported value of leaving the child at a traditional school. An administrative law judge found the recommendations in those reports "strikingly similar to the educational program that the IEP team had proposed for [the child]." The ALJ further found that the "nature and extent of [the child]'s disabilities and social skill deficits make it difficult for him to have meaningful interaction with nondisabled peers in his current elementary school setting. It is unlikely that he would be more successful with peer interaction at the middle school level." The ALJ concluded that the decision of the IEP team to place ...