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In re Marriage of Sedars

Court of Appeals of Iowa

December 6, 2017


         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Dallas County, Richard B. Clogg, Judge.

         A husband appeals the physical care and visitation provisions of the parties' dissolution decree.

          Ryan D. Babich of Babich Goldman, P.C., Des Moines, for appellant.

          Katie M. Naset of Hope Law Firm, P.L.C., West Des Moines, for appellee.

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

          MULLINS, Judge

         Brian Sedars appeals the physical care and visitation provisions of the decree dissolving his marriage to Kathryn (Katie) Sedars. He primarily argues the district court erred in failing to award him physical care of the parties' minor children. He requests a reversal of that portion of the decree and a corresponding amendment to the parties' child-support obligations. In the alternative, he argues he should be awarded significantly more visitation with the children. Both parties request an award of appellate attorney fees.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         Upon our de novo review and based on the evidence we find credible, [1] we make the following findings of fact. Brian and Katie married in 2006 and are the parents of two minor children, a daughter and a son, born in 2009 and 2014, respectively. At the time of trial, Brian was thirty-five years old and Katie thirty-two; both are in good health. Brian is a program-integrity manager for an insurance company. In this position, Brian earns approximately $85, 000 per year and has the ability to work from home ninety percent of the time. Katie is a special-education teacher at a middle school earning approximately $40, 000 per year. Katie's position allows her to have time off from work for seasonal and holiday breaks. Both parties conceded at trial that the other is generally a good parent to the minor children. The evidence presented at trial generally focused on the historical caregiving attributes of each party and the conduct of each toward one another during the proceedings. Generally lacking in the evidence is that which would show how either of the parties' behavior during the proceedings had a negative effect on the children.

         Brian filed a petition for dissolution of marriage in September 2015 requesting temporary and permanent joint legal custody and joint physical care. Prior to trial, the court approved the parties' stipulation to, among other things, temporary, joint legal custody of the children;[2] a temporary parenting schedule allowing Brian six nights of parenting time and Katie eight nights of parenting time per two-week period and alternating parenting time to each on holidays, school breaks, and other occasions; and Brian's monthly payment of temporary child support in the amount of $782.52. Although the parties initially agreed in their pleadings that joint physical care would be appropriate upon dissolution, both subsequently amended their pleadings to request an award of physical care.

         The evidence we find credible supports a finding that Katie was the primary caregiver of the parties' children both before and after the parties separated and that she is more able to minister the children's needs. Although Brian assisted with caring for the children when available and when the assistance was needed, we find Katie shouldered the bulk of tasks associated with caring for and raising the children. When the parties' first child was born, parental duties were generally divided based upon the parties' work schedules, availability, and other family tasks, with the exception of breastfeeding, which fell to Katie. The division was largely the same when the parties' second child was born, but at this point Brian provided more of his time to the older child than the younger because Katie was breastfeeding, and as the younger child's source of sustenance, was naturally required to provide more attention to the younger child. Katie was more able to attend to the children's specific needs when they were infants, as Brian has "never been a huge fan of babies." Katie has primarily cared for the children during periods of her maternity leave, seasonal and holiday breaks from school, and Brian's battle with thyroid cancer.

         Shortly before filing his petition, Brian decided he wanted to pursue a relationship with another woman, Amanda Smith, with whom he had started a relationship in August 2015-Brian advised Katie of his desire to dissolve their marriage so he could pursue this relationship further.[3] Around the time Brian filed his petition, he and Amanda stayed the night in a camper located at the parties' marital home when Katie and the children were staying elsewhere. In the middle of the night, Katie went to the camper and confronted them. Brian and Amanda accused Katie of assault, which she denies. Brian and Amanda called the police, but no criminal charges were ever filed against Katie.[4]

         Brian moved into his own apartment shortly after this occurrence and subsequently moved in with Amanda in late January 2016. Amanda has two daughters, one is three-years old and the other is five-years old. According to Brian, his children and Amanda get along "excellent[ly]" and "her bond with [his] children is very impressive." Correspondence between Brian and his daughter's guidance counselor indicates that the daughter has transitioned well into Brian and Amanda's home and that she likes Amanda, despite Katie's distaste for her. Since moving in with Amanda, Brian has sent Katie weekly updates concerning the children. At some point during the proceedings, Katie started sending Brian weekly updates as well. If Brian receives physical care of the children, he intends to remove his daughter from the Adel school district, where she has attended kindergarten and first grade and receives counseling regarding her parents' separation, and enroll her in the Waukee school district, where Amanda's children now attend. He believes Waukee is a superior school district and "[i]t would be more convenient for [him]" if the children went there. Katie's desire is to allow her daughter to continue her education in Adel.

         The parties have struggled in their efforts to co-parent their children since their separation. Brian has pushed the parties' status as joint-legal custodians to its limits and demanded that he be involved in every single decision relating to the children, even those relating to matters that he clearly had no interest in being involved prior to the separation. The record reveals a volitional effort on the part of Brian to push Katie to the edge throughout the proceedings in an attempt to get her to unravel and violate the temporary-matters order. Katie, obviously struggling with the fact that Brian left her for another woman, said some particularly hateful things to Brian and was slow to accept his rejection of her and his preference for another woman. She was initially resistant to the ideas of ...

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