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In re Marriage of Williams

Court of Appeals of Iowa

February 19, 2014

IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF ALICIA R. WILLIAMS AND JUSTIN WILLIAMS; Upon the Petition of ALICIA R. WILLIAMS, Petitioner-Appellant/Cross-Appellee, And Concerning JUSTIN WILLIAMS, Respondent-Appellee/Cross-Appellant

Editorial Note:

This opinion is subject to modification or correction by the court and is not final until the time for rehearing or further review has passed.

Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Carla T. Schemmel, Judge. A wife appeals and a husband cross-appeals the decree dissolving their marriage raising issues of child custody and property distribution.

Andrew B. Howie of Hudson, Mallaney, Shindler & Anderson, P.C., West Des Moines, for appellant/cross-appellee.

Susan L. Ekstrom of Elverson, Vasey & Peterson, Des Moines, for appellee/cross-appellant.

Considered by Vogel, P.J., and Tabor and McDonald, JJ.

OPINION

VOGEL, P.J.

Alicia Williams appeals, and Justin Williams cross-appeals, the decree dissolving their marriage. Alicia claims the district court should have given her physical care of the parties' children and should have stricken or disregarded the custody evaluator's report. Justin, on cross-appeal, claims the district court should have awarded him one-half of Alicia's 401(k) account. He also seeks appellate attorney fees in this matter. After our de novo review, we affirm the physical care and property distribution provisions of the district court's decree. We conclude the children's best interests justify placing them in Justin's physical care, and the short-term nature of this marriage along with the rest of the property distribution makes it equitable for Alicia to keep sole possession of her 401(k).

I. BACKGROUND FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS.

Alicia and Justin were married in December 2009, after finding out they were expecting their first child. Their first son was born in May 2010. After their relationship turned rocky, Alicia filed to dissolve the marriage in March of 2012. A few days after filing, the parties got in a heated altercation, and Alicia called the police. Justin was arrested and charged with domestic abuse and harassment. Justin ultimately entered an Alford plea to harassment, and the domestic abuse charge was dropped. The court entered a no-contact order at sentencing.

Alicia also filed for relief from domestic abuse under Iowa Code chapter 236 (2011). After a hearing the court concluded Alicia had not proven that Justin engaged in domestic abuse. Thus, the court dismissed the case.

At the temporary hearing in the dissolution action the court granted the parties joint legal custody of their child and placed physical care with Alicia subject to Justin's visitation. The court set the child support obligation and awarded Alicia possession of the martial home, ordering Justin to contribute toward the mortgage payment. The court also appointed a custody evaluator, Mary Hilliard, at Justin's request. During the pendency of the dissolution proceeding, approximately three weeks before trial, Alicia delivered the parties' second son.

Following a three day trial, the court issued its dissolution decree in March 2013. The court noted there were allegations of domestic abuse made against both parties. The court however found that neither party presented a physical threat to the other at the present time, but rather, each had used these accusations to attempt to bolster their own position in the dissolution action. Both parties had refused to allow the other party to see the oldest child for several weeks during the dissolution proceeding, and both behaved in a manner unproductive to co-parenting. Following the advice of the custody evaluator, the court determined the parties should have joint legal custody, granted Justin physical care, and provided Alicia a liberal amount of visitation, which amounted to fifty percent of the overnights.[1] The court required the parties to engage the services of a parenting coordinator for the next twelve months and ordered Alicia to pay child support in accordance with the support guidelines.

The court concluded the marital home had no equity and awarded it along with its debt to Alicia. The court ordered Alicia to pay Justin $5000 for his interest in a car she sold during the dissolution proceedings, and it ordered Alicia to pay Justin $2000 for his portion of the 2011 tax refund she received after taking all of the applicable deductions. These payments were to be made in $200 per month installments over the next thirty-five months. Finally, the court awarded each party their own retirement ...


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