IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF MEGAN A. SLIFE AND BRIAN A. SLIFE Upon the Petition of MEGAN A. SLIFE, Petitioner-Appellant, And Concerning BRIAN A. SLIFE, Respondent-Appellee.
from the Iowa District Court for Buchanan County, John J.
Slife appeals the district court's modification of
visitation provisions of the decree dissolving her marriage
to Brian Slife. AFFIRMED.
H. Swift of Swift Law Firm, Manchester, for appellant.
McClintock of McClintock Law Office, Independence, for
Dooley Rothman of Rothman Law Office, Independence, for minor
Danilson, C.J., and Doyle and Mullins, JJ.
Slife appeals the district court's order modifying the
visitation provisions of the decree entered dissolving her
marriage to Brian Slife. She contends Brian did not prove
there had been a change in circumstances to support
modification, the expanded visitation order was not in the
child's best interests, and her affirmative defenses
relating to equitable defenses as pled should have been
sustained to bar Brian's petition for modification of the
decree. We affirm.
Standard of Review.
review is de novo. See In re Marriage of Harris, 877
N.W.2d 434, 440 (Iowa 2016). "We give weight to the
findings of the district court, particularly concerning the
credibility of witnesses; however, those findings are not
binding upon us." In re Marriage of McDermott,
827 N.W.2d 671, 676 (Iowa 2013). The controlling
consideration in child custody cases is always the
child's best interests. See In re Marriage of
Hoffman, 867 N.W.2d 26, 32 (Iowa 2015).
Background Facts and Proceedings.
2013, Megan filed a petition seeking dissolution of her
eleven-year marriage to Brian. She sought sole custody and
care of the parties' child, born in 2004. Her petition
stated: "Each party should be granted liberal and
reasonable visitation rights with the child."
Thereafter, "based upon the agreement of the parties,
" the district court entered a temporary order placing
the child in their joint legal custody, with "primary
placement" of the child with Megan, and Brian having
"custody of the child on alternating weeks beginning the
week of June 30, 2013. This alternating week visitation will
take place from 8 a.m. on Tuesday morning until 5 p.m. on
Despite the parties' agreement and the court's order,
visitation was denied because of allegations the child was
afraid of Brian. In July 2013, Brian filed an application for
appointment of a guardian ad litem (GAL) to represent the
child's interests. He also requested the child be
evaluated by a child psychologist. A GAL was appointed in
September 2013, and the child began counseling in December
2014, the GAL filed her report to the court. She reported
the child suffers from severe PTSD/Developmental Trauma
Disorder to the extent that visits between the child and
[Brian] have not been possible. All professionals involved
have agreed that a positive prognosis exists but will require
no personal contact between the child and [Brian] for some
time yet. Progress has been occurring this summer as the
child has been feeling more stable at home, came to accept
that he did not need to constantly be on alert for his
father's presence in their neighborhood, and began to
voluntarily process his emotions.
stated Megan had "consistently demonstrated a
willingness to have the child re-establish and maintain a
positive relationship with [Brian], " and the GAL
recommended that visitation between Brian and his son
"begin once the child's therapist indicates it is
appropriate" and "to proceed at a pace and in a
manner consistent with" the therapist's
recommendations. The GAL noted it was her understanding that
Megan and Brian agreed with the recommendation.
2014, the parties reached an agreement resolving all of the
underlying issues in the dissolution. The district court
approved the agreed upon decree and filed it on October 7,
2014. The court concluded the parties' agreements
relating to the minor child were in the child's best
interests. Based upon the parties' agreements, the
parties were awarded joint legal custody of their child, with
Megan having physical care of the child and Brian having
visitation was to occur "as recommended by" the
child's therapist and the GAL. Additionally, the parties
expressly agreed, and the decree provided, that if Brian was
"not satisfied with the level or extent of
visitation" he received, he could "request an
additional hearing in six months to address the issue of
visitation . . . without a showing of a material and
substantial change in circumstance." Since entry of the
decree, the parties have engaged in nearly continuous
litigation over various matters.
August 2015, Brian filed an application for visitation,
alleging he had not had any visitation with his son even
though he requested visitation on many occasions. Megan moved
to dismiss the application. Brian did not file a resistance,
and the application was dismissed by the district court.
the child continued to participate in therapy, the
child's anxiety and stress concerning Brian persisted. In
October 2015, the GAL filed a report advising the court that
"the issues that caused this unusual situation of no
visitation have not resolved yet, " nor was the conflict
between the parties resolved. The GAL noted Brian and the
child were exchanging letters through the child's
therapist, but the child had increased anxiety related to the
interaction. The GAL stated she would not recommend
progressing to telephone contact between Brian and the child
until the child was "no longer traumatized by exchanging
letters with his father and is ready to move to the next
2016, Brian filed a petition to modify the decree seeking
visits with the child. As of that date, Brian had still not
had any visitation with his son. Megan filed an answer in
response, challenging, among other things, Brian's
assertion he "was given the right to request a hearing
without an additional showing of a material [and] substantial
change [in] circumstances if there were issues with his
visitation." She also asserted several affirmative
defenses, including the petition for modification was a
collateral attack on the 2014 decree and was barred by
laches, equitable estoppel, ratification, and the doctrine of
matter proceeded to trial in January 2017. The district court
summed up the ...