IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF TERRENCE J. WILLIAMS AND TAMMY M. WILLIAMS Upon the Petition of TERRENCE J. WILLIAMS, Petitioner-Appellee, And Concerning TAMMY M. WILLIAMS, Respondent-Appellant.
from the Iowa District Court for Palo Alto County, Don E.
mother appeals the court's modification order awarding
her former husband physical care of their daughter.
Matthew G. Sease of Kemp & Sease, Des Moines, for
Terrence J. Williams, Ruthven, self-represented appellee.
Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Tabor and Mullins, JJ.
Williams appeals a district court order placing physical care
of their now seven-year-old daughter, A.N.W., with her former
husband, Terrence Williams. Neither party disputes a
substantial change in circumstances warrants modification of
the dissolution decree. The question before us is whether
Tammy or Terrence can better tend to the child's needs.
The answer is a close call. As the district court observed,
"both parents love this child and are equally qualified
to care for this child." Like the district court, we
conclude the tipping point is the likelihood Terrence will be
the more effective parent when it comes to fostering a
positive relationship between A.N.W. and the parent who is
not awarded physical care. Accordingly, we affirm the
Facts and Prior Proceedings
and Terrence married in 2007. Their daughter A.N.W. was born
in 2009. They divorced in 2011. At the time of the divorce,
the family lived in Minnesota. The Minnesota decree granted
the parties joint legal custody and granted Tammy "sole
physical custody and residence" of A.N.W. Tammy was
A.N.W.'s primary caregiver for the next nearly four
moved to Iowa after the divorce. In January 2015, Terrence
filed a petition for custody modification, asserting joint
physical care was a viable option because Tammy had also
relocated to Iowa and lived in close proximity to Terrence.
In July 2015, the parties entered an agreement to share care
of A.N.W. because they lived across the street from one
another in Graettinger, Iowa. The stipulation included this
provision: "If either party moves out of the
Graettinger/Terril School district, this shall be the basis
for modification of custody due to the inability to continue
joint physical care." The district court entered an
order approving the stipulated modification.
months later, on October 1, 2015, Tammy filed a petition to
modify, alleging Terrence moved away from Graettinger within
days of the court's approval of the modification. Both
parties testified at a June 2016 hearing on the modification
request. According to the evidence, both parents had steady
employment. Tammy worked at a nursing home in Emmetsburg.
Terrence also worked in Emmetsburg at a swine
testified, soon after the stipulation was entered, Terrence
moved to Ruthven, which she alleged was not located in the
Graettinger-Terril Community School District. She also
testified she had since moved to Fenton, where she lived with
her fiancé. Under cross-examination, Tammy
acknowledged her fiancé had spent time in prison on a
theft conviction. Tammy also testified regarding the
parties' conflict, which sometimes escalated into
physical confrontations. Tammy admitted being charged with
domestic-abuse assault in January 2015 as a result of a fight
with Terrence. Tammy also obtained protective orders based on
abuse by Terrence toward her. Under the protective order,
Terrence was restricted to communicating with Tammy
concerning their daughter only by email. Terrence was
arrested for violating that restriction by sending Tammy a
text message using a cell phone Tammy had provided A.N.W.
further testimony, Tammy acknowledged she had A.N.W. baptized
without informing Terrence. When asked if Terrence had a
right to know about the baptism, she answered "yes and
no." She explained she was Lutheran and Terrence was
Baptist but asserted he "didn't show any
interest" in having their daughter baptized. Similarly,
Tammy testified she did not communicate with Terrence before
enrolling A.N.W. in the North Union School District, which
serves the town of Fenton. At the time of the modification
trial, A.N.W. was about to enter first grade. She had an
individualized education plan (IEP) to address a learning
disability. Tammy told the court she had taken steps to have
their daughter's IEP transferred to her new school.
part, Terrence testified to his active involvement in
A.N.W.'s life, including attending medical appointments
and school conferences. He objected to Tammy's unilateral
decision to have their daughter baptized. He also testified
A.N.W. had developed a close relationship with her two
half-sisters, who are being raised by Terrence. He testified,
even after his move to Ruthven, A.N.W. still attended school
in Graettinger, which was only a fifteen-minute drive. He
testified Tammy knew he was planning to move to Ruthven and
both parents believed Ruthven was actually in the