IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF RYAN WALKER AND AMBER WALKER Upon the Petition of RYAN WALKER, Petitioner-Appellee, And Concerning AMBER WALKER, Respondent-Appellant.
from the Iowa District Court for Story County, Timothy J.
divorced mother of two children appeals the district
court's rejection of her proposal for joint physical
Jennings Hoover of Hoover Law Office, P.C., Cedar Rapids, for
Walker, Ames, appellee pro se.
Considered by Vogel, P.J., and Tabor and Bower, JJ.
Amber and Ryan Walker testified at their divorce trial that
they can communicate well when it comes to their two
children, ages two and eight. But in the decree, the district
court rejected Amber's request for joint physical care.
She renews that request on appeal. After reviewing the
record, we conclude joint physical care would be in the
children's best interests and modify the decree
was eighteen years old and Ryan was nineteen years old when
they married in 2008. The two settled in Ames where Ryan
graduated from Iowa State University and Amber worked in
retail. They have one son, J.W. born in 2008, and one
daughter, M.W. born in 2015. Amber suffered postpartum
depression after the birth of each child. After J.W.'s
birth, Ryan discouraged Amber from taking medication for the
depression, even flushing her prescription down the toilet.
So when Amber again felt depressed after M.W. was born, Amber
was reluctant to reveal her condition to Ryan. Despite her
depression, Amber stayed home for several months after the
birth of each child to provide primary care. Ryan worked
full-time as a substance abuse counselor. Amber returned to
work at Kay Jewelers in late 2015 to help the family make
couple separated in June 2016. Amber hoped to stay at their
Ames apartment until their lease expired, but she testified
Ryan forced her to leave one week after she asked for a
divorce. Her housing arrangements did not allow for
her to take the children with her. Ryan restricted her
visitation with the children during the separation. Amber
eventually moved into a coworker's two-bedroom apartment,
which was close to Ryan's apartment and J.W.'s
school. Ryan lived with his sister and, with her help,
provided day-to-day care for the children.
filed a dissolution petition in July 2016. A temporary
custody order placed physical care with Ryan and provided
Amber with two overnight visitations every week. After trial
in March 2017, the district court issued a decree in May
2017, granting the parents joint legal custody of the
children, placing physical care with Ryan, and allowing Amber
visitation on alternate weekends.
only question before us is whether the district court should
have honored Amber's request for joint physical care of
M.W. and J.W. Our review of the dissolution decree is de
novo, which means we examine the entire factual record and
adjudicate anew rights on the legal issues presented. See
In re Marriage of Ales, 592 N.W.2d 698, 702 (Iowa Ct.
App. 1999). While we independently decide Amber's claim,
we give weight to the district court's factual findings,
especially with respect to witness credibility. See In re
Marriage of Berning, 745 N.W.2d 90, 92 (Iowa Ct. App.
custody and physical care are distinct concepts. Legal
custody bestows rights and responsibilities to decide matters
such as the children's medical care, education,
extracurricular activities, and religious instruction. Iowa
Code § 598.1(3), (5) (2017); see In re Marriage of
Hansen, 733 N.W.2d 683, 690 (Iowa 2007). By contrast,
physical care involves the right and responsibility to
maintain a home and provide routine care for children. Iowa
Code § 598.1(7); Hansen, 733 N.W.2d at 690. An
award of joint physical care requires divorced parents to
work closely together to coordinate the myriad of everyday
details of child rearing. That is why-when deciding if joint
physical care is in the children's best interests-we must
consider not only the continuity of caregiving, but also the
ability of the divorced parents to communicate and show
mutual respect; the degree of conflict between them; and the
degree to which they are in general agreement about their
approach to daily parenting matters. See Hansen, 733
N.W.2d at 696-99.
the district court awarded joint legal custody to Ryan and
Amber, it was faced with Amber's request for joint
physical care. When the court denies a parent's request
for joint physical care, that denial "shall be
accompanied by specific findings of fact and conclusions of
law that the awarding of joint physical care is not in the
best interest of the child[ren]." Iowa Code §
598.41(5)(a). The district court here listed several reasons
why it believed Ryan, rather than Amber, deserved to be the
children's primary caregiver. But the district court did
not address why joint physical care would not serve the
children's best interests.
carefully scrutinizing the trial record and Amber's
arguments on appeal, we conclude joint physical care would be
in the children's best interests. Both Ryan and Amber are
suitable parents, loving and conscientious. When we look at
the continuity of caregiving, both parents have been
primarily responsible for the children's routine needs at
different points in time. The district court placed heavy
emphasis on their point of separation, asserting, "Ryan
has been the primary caretaker for the children since their
mother Amber left." But the district court failed to
acknowledge Ryan forced Amber to leave, did not allow her to
return to the apartment, and restricted her visitation with
the children for ...