KARA B. SWINGEN, Petitioner-Appellant,
CRAIG A. KOCH, Respondent-Appellee.
from the Iowa District Court for Hancock County, DeDra L.
mother appeals from the order modifying the parties'
child custody arrangement to provide physical care of the
child to the father. AFFIRMED.
Richard S. Piscopo, Jr. of Yunek Law Firm, P.L.C., Mason
City, for appellant.
E. Eichmann of Eichmann Law Firm, Des Moines, for appellee.
Considered by Potterfield, P.J., and Doyle and Tabor, JJ.
Swingen and Craig Koch are the parents of P.L.K., who was
born in 2008. In 2012, the parties stipulated to joint
physical care of P.L.K., and the district court entered an
order approving their stipulation. In 2015, Kara filed a
petition to modify child custody seeking physical care of
P.L.K. Craig answered, the matter was tried in 2016, and the
district court entered an order granting Craig physical care
of P.L.K. Kara appealed. The case was transferred to this
court in February 2017.
the modification action, Kara and Craig stipulated that a
substantial change in circumstances warranted modifying the
custody order to provide physical care to one parent, but
they disagreed as to which parent should receive physical
care. After hearing the evidence presented by the parties at
trial, the district court determined it was in P.L.K.'s
best interests to grant Craig physical care, providing the
It is without question and this court finds that Craig has
shown greater stability than has Kara. Craig has maintained
the same residence and is waiting to purchase a home when he
is able. He continues to reside at the same residence since
the separation of the parties and stipulation back in early
2012. Craig has continued to live in the same town, which is
the school district where the child resides. Craig has
maintained the same daycare provider for P.L.K. that P.L.K.
has known since prior to the separation of the parties. Craig
has continued to place P.L.K. in the position of coming first
over his romantic relationships and social life.
In contrast, Kara has changed residences, been fired from her
employment, had a child . . . who is not the child of Craig
or her husband, Andy, moved to a residence not in
P.L.K.'s school district, has obviously not established a
plan and routine that allows P.L.K. to timely attend school,
has failed to provide P.L.K. a bedroom of her own in the
approximately eight months since moving into her now
husband's grandfather's home, has no established plan
for P.L.K.'s schooling or daycare if she were to receive
primary placement, continues to consume alcohol in excess,
which has led to her being unable to care for P.L.K., and has
led to the involvement of law enforcement.
In addition, while neither parent has followed the
stipulation to the letter, Kara shows a complete disregard
for the orders of this court and for the place that Craig
holds in the life of P.L.K. To unilaterally change
P.L.K.'s school and not inform the prior school or the
father is inexcusable. This led to P.L.K. attending a
different school for approximately one month until Craig was
forced to file a contempt action to get P.L.K. back to the
only school which she has known. Unfortunately, both parents
fail to communicate well regarding P.L.K., and neither parent
holds the other in high regard.
appeal, Kara disputes some of the district court's
findings that led it to grant Craig physical care of
P.L.K. Her chief complaint, however, is that the
court failed to "establish or even set forth an analysis
of why the minor child should be separated from her half
biological brother and step-brother."
review orders modifying child custody de novo. See
Hoffman, 867 at 32. Our controlling consideration is the
child's best interests, a determination we must make on a
case-by-case basis. See id. In deciding the best
custodial arrangement for a child who is the subject of a
modification action, we must determine which parent is better
able to minister to the needs of the child. See In re
Marriage of Harris, 877 N.W.2d 434, 444 (Iowa 2016)
(modifying a joint physical care arrangement to grant the
mother physical care where the mother had proved she was
better suited that the father to minister to the needs of the
children). "[T]he objective is to place the
child in an environment most likely to bring the child to
healthy physical, mental, and social maturity." In
re Marriage of Courtade, 560 N.W.2d 36, 38 (Iowa Ct.
supreme court has stated that "[s]iblings should not be
separated from one another without good and compelling
reasons." In re Marriage of Smiley, 518 N.W.2d
376, 380 (Iowa 1994). The rationale for this rule is that
"[s]plit custody deprives children of the benefit of
constant association with each other." In re
Marriage of Wahl, 246 N.W.2d 268, 270 (Iowa 1976).
"The rule is not ironclad, however, and circumstances
may arise which demonstrate that separation may better
promote the long-range interests of children." In re
Marriage of Jones, 309 N.W.2d 457, 461 (Iowa 1981).
Rather, contact with siblings is but ...