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In re Marriage of Slayman

Court of Appeals of Iowa

May 17, 2017

IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF CHRISTOPHER LAWRENCE SLAYMAN AND CASSANDRA LYNN SLAYMAN Upon the Petition of CHRISTOPHER LAWRENCE SLAYMAN, Petitioner-Appellant, And Concerning CASSANDRA LYNN SLAYMAN, n/k/a CASSANDRA LYNN ORSI, Respondent-Appellee.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Pottawattamie County, Greg W. Steensland, Judge.

         Chris Slayman appeals from the order modifying the child custody provisions of the decree dissolving his marriage to Cassandra Slayman.

          Mark J. Rater of Rater Law Office, Council Bluffs, for appellant.

          Stephen C. Ebke of Ebke Law Office, Council Bluffs, for appellee.

          Considered by Potterfield, P.J., and Doyle and Tabor, JJ.

          DOYLE, Judge.

         Chris Slayman appeals from the order modifying the child custody provisions of the decree dissolving his marriage to Cassandra Slayman, now known as Cassandra Orsi. He argues Cassandra has failed to prove there has been a substantial change in circumstances since entry of the last modification order to warrant modifying the custody provisions of the decree to grant Cassandra physical care of the children. In the alternative, Chris argues the district court erred in calculating the amount of his child support, and he requests additional visitation with the children.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

         Chris and Cassandra are the parents of three children. In their January 2010 dissolution decree, the district court granted them joint legal custody and joint physical care of the children after finding

that the parties communicate and indicated that they could get along with a joint physical care arrangement. They both live in Pottawattamie County, they attend school in Lewis Central School District and should continue to do so. Both parents are good parents, according to the only independent witnesses in this trial. The court finds that joint physical care is in the long term best interest of the children.

         Unfortunately, things did not go as well as the district court anticipated. Less than a year after entry of the decree, Chris petitioned to modify the custody provisions to place the children in his physical care after Cassandra's boyfriend[1] harmed the children. The district court granted this modification in March 2012.

         In October 2014, Cassandra petitioned to modify the decree based on a domestic violence incident in Chris's home and the alleged diminishment of Chris's mental health. She requested sole legal and physical custody of the children. The district court denied her petition in June 2015, finding "that both parties have had issues in the past that would have a negative effect on their claim for custody of the minor children" but noting that they had "conducted themselves more appropriately in recent times and seem to be making an attempt to more effectively communicate with each other in a positive way." The court also "stressed to the parties that their effective and positive communication with each other concerning their minor children was important and required for the best interests of the children."

         Almost immediately after the court denied Cassandra's modification action, Chris informed Cassandra he was moving to Carroll to live closer to his girlfriend. This directly contradicted Chris's testimony during the June 2015 modification hearing that he would be remaining in the Carter Lake-Council Bluffs area. Within a month, Chris had moved, leading Cassandra to initiate the present modification action. In May 2016, the court modified the decree to place the children in Cassandra's physical care. The court granted Chis visitation on alternating weekends with three additional weeks of visitation in the summer and ordered Chris to pay Cassandra $758.21 per month in child support. Chris filed a motion to reconsider, which the court denied.[2] He now appeals.[3]

         II. Scope and Standard of Review.

         We 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 district court's fact-findings, especially those concerning witness credibility, though we are not bound by them. See id.; In re Marriage of Vrban, 359 N.W.2d 420, 423 (Iowa 1984) ("There is good reason for us to pay very close attention to the trial court's assessment of the credibility of witnesses. A trial court deciding dissolution cases 'is greatly helped in making a wise decision about the parties by listening to them and watching them in person.'" (citations omitted)). "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)). ...


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