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In re Marriage of Jacobs

Court of Appeals of Iowa

November 8, 2017

IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF LISA A. JACOBS AND SCOTT D. JACOBS Upon the Petition of LISA A. JACOBS, Petitioner-Appellee, And Concerning SCOTT D. JACOBS, Respondent-Appellant, and NATALIE A. JACOBS, Interested Party-Appellee.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Des Moines County, John G. Linn, Judge.

         Scott Jacobs appeals a district court order retroactively requiring him to contribute to his adult daughter's postsecondary educational expenses and attorney fees. AFFIRMED IN PART AND REVERSED IN PART.

          Lisa A. Jacobs, Wever, appellee pro se. Timothy B. Liechty of Bell, Ort & Liechty Law Office, New London, for appellant.

          Robert J. Engler of Cambridge Law Firm, P.L.C., Atlantic, for appellee Natalie Jacobs.

          Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Doyle and Bower, JJ.

          VAITHESWARAN, Presiding Judge.

         Scott Jacobs appeals a district court order retroactively requiring him to contribute to his adult daughter's postsecondary educational expenses and attorney fees.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         Scott and Lisa Jacobs married in 1986 and divorced in 1996. The district court ordered Scott to pay child support and authorized its continuance for postsecondary education beyond the age of eighteen years but not beyond the age of twenty-two. See Iowa Code § 598.1(6) (1996). The child who is the subject of this appeal was two years old at the time.

         Sixteen years later, Scott filed an "application for determination of postsecondary education" for the now-adult child, Natalie. As a result of Natalie's recent graduation from high school, he sought the termination of his child support obligation, modification of "[a]ny postsecondary support" so that it would be governed by a more recent Code provision, and a determination "that Natalie . . . repudiated [him] and . . . all postsecondary support should be at [his] discretion." See Iowa Code § 598.21F(6) (2012) ("A support order, decree, or judgment entered or pending before July 1, 1997, that provides for support of a child for [postsecondary education] expenses may be modified in accordance with this section."); see also id. § 598.21F(4) ("A postsecondary education subsidy shall not be awarded if the child has repudiated the parent by publicly disowning the parent, refusing to acknowledge the parent, or by acting in a similar manner."); In re Marriage of Vaughan, 812 N.W.2d 688, 693 (Iowa 2012) ("The general assembly excluded postsecondary education support from the definition of 'support' in the Iowa Code and promulgated a new section dealing with what it termed a 'postsecondary education subsidy.' . . . . The 1997 legislation provides the current statutory basis for requiring divorced parents to provide funds for a child's postsecondary education.").

         In a 2013 ruling, the district court determined Scott's ongoing child support obligation should be modified to a postsecondary education subsidy. The court further determined Natalie did not repudiate her father and there was "good cause to require a postsecondary education subsidy." While finding a "lack of credible information concerning Natalie's college expenses for the 2013-14 school year, " the court "nonetheless conclude[d] a postsecondary education [subsidy] can and should be entered under the circumstances presented." The court found "it fair, reasonable and appropriate for each party to be equally responsible for Natalie's expenses, up to the maximum allowed by law, even though the record does not reveal the actual cost of [her] education" and stated "[t]he amount owed by each parent shall be determined at the end of each semester. . . . after the deductions for scholarships, grants, student loans, and reasonable work study for the child per semester."

         Natalie attended a local community college for one year. She did not seek a contribution from Scott for that year. In her second year, she transferred to an Illinois college to obtain an associate of arts degree in dental hygiene. In time, she filed a contempt application alleging Scott refused to contribute to the cost of her attendance at this institution. The district court denied the application after concluding Natalie and her mother failed to give Scott all the statutorily-required financial information, which the court characterized as a "condition precedent" to Scott's obligation to pay. The court stated Natalie's application was "premature."

         Natalie filed a petition seeking a declaration of her parents' obligations to contribute to her postsecondary educational expenses. By this time, she had graduated from college. After taking evidence, the district court applied Iowa Code section 598.21F(2), setting forth the method for determining the cost of a postsecondary education. The court entered judgment against Scott for $7666 and ordered him to pay $4000 toward Natalie's trial attorney fee obligation. Scott's motion for enlarged findings and conclusions was denied and he appealed.

         II. Postsecondary ...


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