CHAD H. VOGT, Plaintiff-Appellant,
KATELYN JANE HERMANSON, Defendant-Appellee.
from the Iowa District Court for Benton County, Sean W.
father appeals from an order denying his petition to modify
the parties' custody decree. AFFIRMED.
B. Howie of Shindler, Anderson, Goplerud & Weese, P.C.,
West Des Moines, for appellant.
Christine L. Crilley of Crilley Law Offices, P.L.L.C.,
Hiawatha, for appellee.
Considered by Vogel, P.J., and Doyle and McDonald, JJ.
Vogt and Katelyn Hermanson are the parents of E.F.V., born
2011. In March 2014, the district court entered a custody
decree granting the parties joint legal custody and joint
care of the child. The custody decree provided the child
"shall attend primary and secondary school in the Cedar
Rapids School District unless otherwise agreed to by the
parties." In December 2015, Vogt filed a petition to
modify the custody decree, seeking to have the child attend
school in the Center Point-Urbana School District,
approximately twenty-five miles from Cedar Rapids. The
district court denied the petition for modification, and Vogt
timely filed this appeal.
review is de novo. See Iowa R. App. P. 6.907; In
re Marriage of Rosenfeld, 524 N.W.2d 212, 213 (Iowa Ct.
App. 1994). We examine the entire record and adjudicate anew
issues properly preserved and presented. See In re
Marriage of Ales, 592 N.W.2d 698, 702 (Iowa Ct. App.
1999). We give weight to the district court's findings of
fact, particularly on witness credibility, but we are not
bound by those findings. See id.
custody of a child is fixed, it should be disturbed for only
the most cogent reasons. See In re Marriage of
Frederici, 338 N.W.2d 156, 158 (Iowa 1983). We therefore
require a party requesting a modification of the custodial
arrangement to demonstrate "by a preponderance of
evidence that conditions since the decree was entered have so
materially and substantially changed that the children's
best interests make it expedient to make the requested
change." Id. Here, Vogt does not seek to modify
the custodial arrangement; he seeks only to change the school
district the child will attend. We have previously treated
this request more akin to a change in the parenting or
visitation schedule. See Hemesath v.
Bricker, No. 09-1064, 2010 WL 446990, at *3 (Iowa Ct.
App. Feb. 10, 2010); In re Marriage of Spears, 529
N.W.2d 299, 302 (Iowa Ct. App. 1994). The showing required
for modification of this provision is less significant than
the showing required to modify the custody and care
provisions of a decree. See Nicolou v.
Clements, 516 N.W.2d 905, 906 (Iowa Ct. App. 1994). The
appellate courts of this state have consistently held that to
justify a modification of visitation rights-or, as here, the
child's school district-the petitioner must only show
there has been a material change of circumstances since the
filing of the decree and the change is in the child's
best interests. See, e.g., In re Marriage of
Salmon, 519 N.W.2d 94, 95-96 (Iowa Ct. App. 1994).
original decree contained the following findings and
conclusions regarding the child's education:
Additionally, at the heart of the instant dispute is in what
school district [E.F.V.] will receive her education. Chad
wants [E.F.V.] to attend school in the Center Point School
District and Katelyn wants [E.F.V.] to attend school in the
Cedar Rapids School District. Both districts will provide
[E.F.V.] with quality education and each has benefits and
drawbacks the other does not. The decision on where [E.F.V.]
should attend school is one that is normally vested to the
legal custodian. See Iowa Code § 598.1(5)
. However, in a situation like this where the parties
are joint legal custodians and cannot agree as to a decision
affecting a child's legal status, the Court must step in
and make a decision in the child's best interest. See
Harder v. Anderson, 764 N.W.2d 534, 538 (Iowa 2009)
("When joint legal custodians have a genuine
disagreement [regarding a child's legal status], the
court must step in . . . and decide the dispute by
considering what is in the best interest of the
child."). Therefore, after weighing all the facts and
circumstances, the Court finds it is in [E.F.V.'s] best
interest to attend school in the Cedar Rapids School
District. In reaching this decision, the Court finds that the
totality of the parties' connections to Cedar Rapids tips
the balance in favor of sending [E.F.V.] to school there.
Although Chad lives in Urbana, he works in Cedar Rapids and
conducts at least some of his non-work activities there,
including shopping and medical care. On the contrary, Katelyn
has no present connection to Center Point or Urbana other
than Chad. All this makes the Cedar Rapids School District
the better choice, in [E.F.V.'s] best interest.
the time of the decree, neither party has moved, changed
jobs, or made any significant changes to their lives. The
parties' jobs both remain in Cedar Rapids. The
child's medical providers remain in Cedar Rapids.
trial, Vogt contended there had been a material change in
circumstances since the time of the decree. Specifically, the
parents enrolled the child in preschool in Center Point. Vogt
argued the child built relationships during preschool and
should thus continue all of her remaining schooling in Center
Point. He also argued the total travel time for both parties
was minimized by enrolling the child in the Center
Point-Urbana School District. The district court found and
concluded as follows:
Although the basis for the Court's "tip of the
balance" at the time of the decree (namely, the totality
of the parties' connections to Cedar Rapids) may have
changed some since the entry of the decree, the Court finds
and concludes that any change in the tipping of the balance
does not rise to the level of material change in
circumstances triggering modification of the explicit terms
of the decree. Indeed, that balance may tip one way or the
other many times over [the] ...