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In re Marriage of Stahr

Court of Appeals of Iowa

February 7, 2018

IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF ERIC L. STAHR AND ANNETTE M. STAHR Upon the Petition of ERIC L. STAHR, Petitioner-Appelle, And Concerning ANNETTE M. STAHR, n/k/a ANNETTE BALK, Respondent-Appellee.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Winneshiek County, Margaret L. Lingreen, Judge.

         Annette Stahr, now Annette Balk, appeals from the denial of her petition to modify the physical-care provisions of her decree of dissolution of marriage to Eric Stahr.

          Erik W. Fern of Putnam, Fern & Thompson Law Office, P.L.L.C., Decorah, for appellant.

          Laura J. Parrish of Miller, Pearson, Gloe, Burns, Beatty & Parrish, P.L.C., Decorah, for appellee.

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

          DANILSON, CHIEF JUDGE.

         Annette Stahr, now known as Annette Balk, appeals from the denial of her petition to modify the physical-care provisions of her decree of dissolution of marriage to Eric Stahr. She argues the court's findings of fact are not supported by the evidence, there was a change of circumstances warranting modification, and she has shown she can provide the children superior care.

         We review equity actions de novo. Iowa R. App. P. 6.907. We give weight to the trial court's findings of fact, particularly with regard to determinations of credibility, but we are not bound by them. Iowa R. App. P. 6.904(3)(g).

         The parties were divorced in 2005, at which time they agreed their two children, N.M.S., born in 2000, and M.D.S., born in 2001, would be in Eric's physical care, with generally unspecified but liberal visitation with Annette. For the next ten years, the parties were able to co-parent successfully despite Annette's paramour's attempted suicide, Annette and her paramour relocating for several years, Eric's remarriage and divorce, Annette and her paramour returning to the same city as Eric and the children in 2014, and each parent having periods of depression.

         In July 2015, however, Eric was called by N.M.S. asking to be picked up from Annette's home because Annette and her paramour were quarreling. When Eric arrived, Annette's paramour would not let Eric in and would not let the child out. Eric heard N.M.S. scream and he broke down the door.

         On August 14, 2015, Annette filed a petition to modify the dissolution decree and requested a temporary order providing for specified visitation. Eric resisted and asked that there be no contact between the children and Annette's paramour. The district court entered a temporary order providing Annette with alternate weekend visitation; however, there would be no overnight visits if Annette's paramour was in the home. There were no overnight visits after the temporary order.

         Pursuant to a court order, a report was prepared by licensed social worker Jennifer Judson-Harms, who found there were some indications of parent-alienation by Eric yet recommended there not be a change of custody. Rather, Judson-Harms proposed Annette and the children seek counseling to repair their relationship and that Annette and Eric seek mediation to work on their co-parenting relationship.

         At the trial on the modification petition, both children testified. N.M.S., now age seventeen, indicated she would appreciate a set visitation schedule of every other weekend with her mother and the ability to visit more frequently at her own choosing. M.D.S., age fifteen, testified she was satisfied with the current situation, though she acknowledged she should make more of an effort to see her mother.

         The trial court entered its findings and conclusions in which it determined there had not been a substantial change of circumstances requiring a change of physical care. However, the court did modify the visitation provisions of the ...


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