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In re Marriage of Koster

Court of Appeals of Iowa

December 6, 2017

IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF LISA A. KOSTER AND RYAN W. KOSTER Upon the Petition of LISA A. KOSTER, Petitioner-Appellant, And Concerning RYAN W. KOSTER, Respondent-Appellee.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Scott County, Stuart P. Werling, Judge.

         Lisa Koster appeals the custody, visitation, property-distribution, and spousal-support provisions of the decree dissolving her marriage to Ryan Koster.

          Dennis D. Jasper, Bettendorf, for appellant.

          Jennifer M. Olsen of Olsen Law Office, Davenport, for appellee.

          Heard by Danilson, C.J., and Doyle and Mullins, JJ.

          MULLINS, JUDGE.

         Lisa Koster appeals the custody, visitation, property-distribution, and spousal-support provisions of the decree dissolving her marriage to Ryan Koster. She contends (1) the district court's factual findings are biased and unsupported by the evidence and, as a result, the district court erred in granting physical care of the parties' two minor children to Ryan because it assumed Lisa's repeated, but unsubstantiated, allegations that Ryan abused the children had a negative effect on the children; (2) the division of assets is inequitable; and (3) the award of alimony in the amount of $1000.00 per month for one year is inequitable.[1]Lisa requests an award of appellate attorney fees.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         The parties met in late 2006 as a result of their mutual participation in a church group. They immediately started dating and were subsequently married in August 2007. At the time of trial, Lisa was thirty-four years old and Ryan thirty-nine. The parties have two children, a daughter and son, born in 2011 and 2012, respectively. At the time of trial, the children were four and five years old.

         Ryan has obtained a bachelor's degree in management-information systems and is employed as an "IT team leader" for a manufacturer. In this position he earns an annual base salary of approximately $128, 900.00 and potentially receives an annual bonus, which varies depending upon company performance. Neither party challenges the district court's imputation of a $30, 000.00 bonus to Ryan. Ryan's employer allows him flexibility in his work schedule pursuant to meeting his obligations as a parent and ministering to the needs of the children.

         Lisa has obtained an associate's degree in management and marketing and has "almost completed" her bachelor's degree. During the marriage, Ryan encouraged Lisa to complete her bachelor's degree but she declined to do so. It would cost Lisa approximately $9500.00 to complete her bachelor's degree. Lisa worked at a church from 2006 to 2011. In this capacity, she earned between $22, 000.00 and $28, 000.00 per year and received benefits. It is undisputed that, before the parties' separation, Lisa was the primary caregiver of the children. In 2011, the parties mutually agreed that Lisa would be a stay-at-home mother. Lisa's status as a stay-at-home mother continued until after the commencement of proceedings. Since the commencement of proceedings, Lisa has started her own business in which she sells clothes online from her home. The business was recently launched at the time of trial, and Lisa had yet to make any profits at that time. Obviously, Lisa's status as a self-employed individual working from home allows her flexibility in her daily schedule.

         Ryan has admittedly struggled with being "rough" with the parties' son, having "spanked him in anger" in the past when it comes to discipline and related matters. The record reveals, however, that Lisa has also used spanking as a disciplinary tool. Although Lisa accuses Ryan of physically abusing their son on a number of occasions, we find those allegations unsupported by the record and conclude Ryan's conduct does not amount to physical abuse. Lisa is an aggressive discipliner and demands strict obedience from her children. Ryan, on the other hand, is more apt to be a nurturing disciplinary authority. According to a mental-health counselor, the children have close bonds with both parents. Both children enjoy the time they are able to spend with each of the parents. The children love both parents, and both parents love the children.

         Prior to April 28, 2015, Lisa had started engaging the children in "body safety" discussions and advised the children that "no one is ever supposed to touch" them in their private areas. In these discussions, Lisa did not explain to the children that it would be appropriate for Ryan to have contact with these areas when completing parental tasks, such as bathing or wiping them.

         On April 28, 2015, the parties' daughter allegedly reported to Lisa that Ryan touched her inappropriately.[2] After contacting a friend, Lisa transported both children to the hospital and reported Ryan to local law enforcement and the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS).[3] At this time, Lisa also alleged Ryan physically abused the parties' son. On April 30, upon being advised by Lisa of the allegations, the "security team" at the parties' church, which is led by Lisa's brother-in-law, posted a "security alert" poster in the church's security office that stated Lisa "and the children . . . are in danger of physical harm from Ryan" and he "cannot be on the premises at the same time as Lisa" and the children. One of the pastors of the church also sent at least one email to church staff and small-group members implying that Ryan abused the children and church members should limit their contact with him and support Lisa in her ensuing legal battle.

         In relation to the alleged sexual contact, Lisa submitted Ryan's computer and other electronic devices to law enforcement to have them searched for child pornography despite the fact she had never seen Ryan view the same. No child pornography was found on his devices. In August, Lisa also paid a private firm $1500.00 to forensically analyze Ryan's computer for the presence of child pornography but the result was the same. Someone also contacted Ryan's employer and reported he was viewing pornography on his work devices. The work devices were confiscated and searched but, again, nothing was found.

         During the resulting DHS investigation, the daughter did state that Ryan has touched her "down there" in the past, but no information was provided that such contact was accompanied by a sexual intent on the part of Ryan or was otherwise inappropriate. The child-protective worker specifically noted in her report that, "with the manner in which Lisa reacted to [the daughter's] comments and the leading questions asked by [Lisa], it is difficult to discern if contact was sexual in nature." Ultimately, DHS found the allegations against Ryan unsubstantiated. Law enforcement also declined to pursue criminal charges.

         The day after Lisa filed her initial report with DHS, she filed a petition for relief from domestic abuse alleging domestic abuse on the part of Ryan and requested the entry of protective order restricting Ryan from contacting her and the children. A temporary protective order was entered by the district court the same day. Lisa filed a petition for dissolution of marriage approximately one week later. Therein, she requested, among other things, physical care of the children and temporary and permanent child and spousal support.

         In May, Ryan moved for temporary visitation. Following a hearing on the domestic-abuse matter, the district court announced on the record its belief that Lisa's allegations of domestic abuse were "incredible and not believable" and Ryan's testimony was "far more credible." The district court subsequently awarded Ryan two one-hour supervised visits with the children per week and cancelled the temporary protective order.

         In June, Lisa filed an application for, among other things, temporary child and spousal support. At a contested hearing in July, Lisa also requested an award of temporary attorney fees. Following the hearing, the court ordered Ryan to pay Lisa $1800.00 in monthly child support and $5000.00 in temporary attorney fees and to continue to pay household and other expenses during the pendency of the action but denied Lisa's request for temporary spousal support. The court also "slightly expanded" Ryan's ...

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