IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF VALERIE E. HUTE f/k/a VALERIE E. BAKER AND JOSEPH M. BAKER Upon the Petition of VALERIE E. HUTE f/k/a VALERIE E. BAKER, Petitioner-Appellant, And Concerning JOSEPH M. BAKER, Respondent-Appellee.
from the Iowa District Court for Jackson County, Henry W.
Latham, II, Judge.
spouse appeals from the order modifying a decree of
dissolution of marriage. REVERSED AND REMANDED.
Bradley T. Boffeli of Boffeli & Spannagel, P.C.,
Maquoketa, for appellant.
Christopher M. Soppe of Pioneer Law Office, Dubuque, for
by Vogel, P.J., and Doyle and McDonald, JJ.
Hute and Joseph Baker divorced in 2007. The stipulated decree
provided Valerie with sole legal custody and physical care of
the parties' children, V.B. and S.B., born in 2002 and
2005, respectively. Joseph was to have visitation "upon
the terms and conditions established in" then-pending
child-in-need-assistance proceedings. The future then came
and went as futures do. The assistance proceedings closed.
The parties remained in Maquoketa. Valerie maintained
physical care of the children. Joseph paid child support. But
Joseph never exercised visitation with the children. And
Joseph never attempted to contact the children. Eventually,
Joseph met and married a woman who had three children of her
own, including two sons and a daughter. Joseph's
stepdaughter is approximately the same age as V.B. The
stepdaughter and V.B. attended the same school. Joseph
testified his stepdaughter told him V.B. once asked her about
Joseph. Joseph interpreted this to mean V.B. wanted to have
contact with him. In December 2015, Joseph acted on his
impulse; he filed a petition to modify the stipulated decree,
seeking visitation with the children. The district court
granted Joseph's petition, awarded the parties joint
legal custody of V.B. and S.B., ordered reunification therapy
for Joseph and the children, and ordered supervised
visitation upon the recommendation of a counselor. Valerie
timely filed this appeal.
review is de novo. See In re Marriage of Pals, 714
N.W.2d 644, 646 (Iowa 2006). We review the entire record and
decide anew the factual and legal issues preserved and
presented for review. See In re Marriage of
Williams, 589 N.W.2d 759, 761 (Iowa Ct. App. 1998).
"Prior cases are of little precedential value, except to
provide a framework for analysis, and we must ultimately
tailor our decision to the unique facts and circumstances
before us." In re Marriage of Kleist, 538
N.W.2d 273, 276 (Iowa 1995) (citing In re Marriage of
Will, 489 N.W.2d 394, 397 (Iowa 1992)). "Although
our review is de novo, we afford deference to the district
court." In re Marriage of Morrison, No.
16-0886, 2017 WL 936152, at *1 (Iowa Ct. App. Mar. 8, 2017).
first address the question of legal custody. "Legal
custody . . . means an award of the rights of legal custody
of a minor child to a parent under which a parent has legal
custodial rights and responsibilities toward the child."
Iowa Code § 598.1(5) (2015). These "[r]ights and
responsibilities . . . include but are not limited to
decision making affecting the child's legal status,
medical care, education, extracurricular activities, and
religious instruction." Id. Joint legal custody
includes the right to "equal participation in decisions
affecting the child's legal status, medical care,
education, extracurricular activities, and religious
instruction." Iowa Code § 598.1(3).
general rule, a party seeking to modify the custodial
provisions of a decree must prove "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 [change legal
custody]." In re Marriage of Frederici, 338
N.W.2d 156, 158 (Iowa 1983). The material and substantial
circumstances "must not have been contemplated by the
court" and "must be more or less permanent, not
temporary." Id. There is a narrow exception to
the general rule. In some circumstances, a district court can
reserve jurisdiction to modify the custodial provisions of
the decree in the absence of proof of a material and
substantial change in circumstances. See, e.g., In re
Marriage of Ruckman, No. 13-1920, 2014 WL 3748601, at *5
(Iowa Ct. App. July 30, 2014).
case, the stipulated decree provided Valerie would have sole
legal custody of the children. The district court modified
the stipulated decree and awarded the parties joint legal
custody so Joseph could have access to the children's
educational information. The district court reasoned
modification of the decree's custodial provisions was
warranted in the absence of a material and substantial change
in circumstances because the decree reserved jurisdiction to
revisit the issue. Specifically, the stipulated decree
provided, "The court reserves jurisdiction to revisit
issues of legal custody, physical care and visitation pending
the outcome of the juvenile court proceeding set forth
above." The district court also concluded there had been
a material and substantial change in circumstances making a
change in the custodial provisions of the decree in the best
interest of the children.
first address the reservation of jurisdiction. Reservation of
jurisdiction in child custody matters is heavily disfavored.
See In re Marriage of Sjulin, 431 N.W.2d 773, 776
(Iowa 1988) (expressing "distaste for decrees that
retain jurisdiction to review . . . custody"); In re
Marriage of Schlenker, 300 N.W.2d 164, 165 (Iowa 1981)
(stating "we have discouraged the retention of
jurisdiction to modify divorce decrees without a showing of
change of circumstances"); In re Marriage of
Vandergaast, 573 N.W.2d 601, 602 (Iowa Ct. App. 1997)
(noting "[t]rial courts should make final disposition of
cases in circumstances then existing"); In re
Marriage of Kurtt, 561 N.W.2d 385, 388 (Iowa Ct. App.
1997) (noting appellate courts in Iowa discourage the
retention of jurisdiction). ...