IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF JOANNA L. STANLEY AND TYLER L. STANLEY Upon the Petition of JOANNA L. STANLEY, n/k/a JOANNA L. LINN, Petitioner-Appellant, And Concerning TYLER L. STANLEY, Respondent-Appellee.
from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, David M.
petitioner appeals the order modifying the child custody and
support provisions of the parties' dissolution decree.
DeVolder of The DeVolder Law Firm, Norwalk, for appellant.
Keller of Keller Law Office, Altoona, for appellee.
Considered by Potterfield, P.J., and Doyle and Tabor, JJ.
Stanley, now known as Joanna Linn, appeals the modification
of the decree dissolving her marriage to Tyler Stanley. She
challenges the modification of the child custody provisions
of the decree to grant Tyler sole legal custody and physical
care of the children. She also challenges the trial
court's calculation of her child support obligation and
asks for an award of her trial and appellate attorney fees.
Background Facts and Proceedings.
and Tyler were divorced in September 2013. The terms of the
dissolution decree, to which they stipulated, granted them
joint legal custody of their two children and placed the
children in Joanna's physical care. Under the
parties' agreement, the decree provides that the children
will remain in the Carlisle School District unless Joanna and
Tyler mutually agreed to a change in enrollment.
parties adhered to the custody arrangement until the summer
of 2015. However, after Joanna moved to live with her
boyfriend, Loren Cramblit, the parties' ability to
communicate and co-parent eroded. In August 2015, Joanna
enrolled the children in a different school district without
Tyler's knowledge or consent, which prompted Tyler to
initiate a contempt action. Ultimately, the court ordered the
children remain in the Carlisle School District, found Joanna
had violated the dissolution decree by withholding the
children from Tyler and making unilateral decisions regarding
the children, and ordered Joanna to serve a total of sixty
days in jail. Although the court withheld mittimus provided
that Joanna allowed Tyler to make up his missed visits with
the children, Joanna continued violating the decree and, as a
result, served three days in jail.
the contempt action was pending, Tyler moved to modify the
child custody provisions of the dissolution decree,
requesting physical care of the children. Joanna
cross-petitioned to modify the provisions of the decree
regarding the children's schooling, how custody was to be
exchanged, visitation, and child support. The court appointed
a guardian ad litem for the children.
modification action came to a hearing in July 2016. The
guardian ad litem recommended that the court grant Tyler
physical custody of the children. In its September 2016
order, the trial court modified the dissolution decree to
grant Tyler sole legal custody and physical care of the
children and ordered Joanna to pay $545.07 per month in child
support. Joanna appeals.
Scope of Review.
review orders modifying dissolution decrees de novo. See
In re Marriage of McKenzie, 709 N.W.2d 528, 531 (Iowa
2006). In doing so, we give weight to the trial court's
fact-findings, especially those concerning witness
credibility, though we are not bound by them. See
id. "We recognize that the district court 'has
reasonable discretion in determining whether modification is
warranted and that discretion will not be disturbed on appeal
unless there is a failure to do equity.'" See
id. (quoting In re Marriage of Walters, 575
N.W.2d 739, 741 (Iowa 1998)). We afford the district court
"considerable latitude" in its determination
"and will disturb the ruling only when there has been a
failure to do equity." In re Marriage of
Okland, 699 N.W.2d 260, 263 (Iowa 2005).
modifying the custody provisions of a dissolution decree, the
court must find the parties' circumstances have
substantially changed in a way the parties had not
contemplated at the time of the decree's entry. See
In re Marriage of Walton, 577 N.W.2d 869, 870 (Iowa Ct.
App. 1998). The change must be more or less permanent and
relate to the welfare of the child. See id. If a
substantial change in circumstances is established, the party
seeking modification must show the ability to minister more
effectively to the children's needs. See In re
Marriage of Frederici, 338 N.W.2d 156, 158 (Iowa 1983).
first argues the district court erred by modifying the decree
to grant Tyler sole legal custody of the children.
legal custody is preferred in Iowa. See In re Marriage of
Bartlett, 427 N.W.2d 876, 878 (Iowa Ct. App. 1988)
("Our statutes express a preference for joint custody
over other custodial arrangements."). However, joint
legal custody requires parents to agree on basic decisions
concerning their children's upbringing. See In re
Marriage of Miller, 390 N.W.2d 596, 601-02 (Iowa 1986).
Therefore, hostility and inability to communicate between the
parents can have a severe impact on their children. See
id. If the parents are unable to cooperate after joint
legal custody is ordered, modification is appropriate.
See In re Marriage of Rolek, 555 N.W.2d 675, 677
and Tyler's inability to communicate and cooperate under
a joint legal custody arrangement is a substantial change in
circumstances that warrants modifying legal custody of the
children. Joanna has demonstrated an unwillingness to work
with Tyler regarding basic parenting issues. In fact, she has
obstructed Tyler's ability to participate by denying him
his scheduled visits with the children and by failing to
consult with him on matters relating to the children. For
instance, Joanna acted unilaterally to change the
children's school district-in violation of the decree-and
to decide it was unnecessary to provide therapy for the
children. Her actions ultimately led the court in the
contempt action to find Joanna was violating the provisions
of the dissolution decree in multiple ways and in an ongoing
has demonstrated her refusal to cooperate with Tyler in
parenting the children by insisting on making custody
exchanges as difficult as possible for Tyler, to the
detriment of the children. She refused to allow Tyler to
temporarily park his vehicle in her driveway or in the alley
behind her home, and she claimed her neighbors refused to
allow Tyler to briefly pull into their driveway for
exchanges. As a result, Tyler was required to park a block
and a half away. Joanna sent Loren to accompany the children,
who were fourteen and nine years old. During these exchanges,
Loren was aggressive and threatening toward Tyler. As the
district court found based on "the testimony of the
credible witnesses, every custody exchange is
fraught with tension and peril." (Emphasis in original).
Joanna's claims she was acting on her fear of Tyler, who
she claims was abusive and stalked her, are not substantiated
by the record.
parties' correspondence also demonstrates Joanna's
inability to communicate and cooperate with Tyler regarding
the children. She failed to reply to multiple emails
inquiring about extracurricular activities, as well as
medical and dental concerns. In one reply, Joanna wrote to
Tyler: "If I choose to sign [our child] up for any
extracurricular activities, you will know about it. If your
emails don't pertain to something important, I'll
block you from my email too." ...