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In re Marriage of Mertz

Court of Appeals of Iowa

May 2, 2018

IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF JAMES BENJAMIN MERTZ AND COLLEEN SHERREE HASSLER Upon the Petition of JAMES BENJAMIN MERTZ, Petitioner-Appellee, And Concerning COLLEEN SHERREE HASSLER, Respondent-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Kossuth County, Don E. Courtney, Judge.

         A mother appeals the provision of a dissolution of marriage decree granting the father physical care of their child.

          Tammy Westhoff Gentry and Gina Messamer of Parrish Kruidenier Dunn Boles Gribble Gentry Brown & Bergmann, L.L.P., Des Moines, for appellant.

          Matthew G. Sease of Kemp & Sease, Des Moines, for appellee.

          Heard by Danilson, C.J., and Vaitheswaran and Bower, JJ.

          VAITHESWARAN, Judge.

         A mother appeals the provision of a dissolution of marriage decree granting the father physical care of their child.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         Colleen Hassler and James Mertz had a child in 2012 and married the following year. The child lived in Ankeny with Hassler for the first six months of her life. Then, Hassler and her twin children from an earlier marriage moved into Mertz's home in Algona. The arrangement was short-lived.

         In 2014, Mertz petitioned for a dissolution of the marriage. The proceedings dragged on for two-and-a-half years.

         Initially, Mertz obtained an order restraining Hassler from moving from Algona. The order was later lifted, and Hassler moved to Ankeny to be closer to her family and to take advantage of the broader employment market. The district court granted her temporary physical care of the child, subject to visitation with Mertz.

         Several months later, Mertz moved to Ankeny to be closer to his child. In light of the move, he asked the court to modify the temporary order and grant the parents joint physical care of the child. The district court denied the request but afforded him a midweek visit in addition to the previously scheduled alternate weekend plan. Mertz participated in the visits and took advantage of unscheduled visitation time afforded by Hassler.

         At trial, both parents sought physical care of the child. Mertz alternatively asked for joint physical care, a request he later withdrew. Following trial, Mertz filed motions to reopen the record, based on various circumstances. The district court granted certain motions and considered the evidence in making the physical care decision.

         In a detailed ruling, the district court began by finding that both Hassler and Mertz "actively cared for the child before and since the separation" and "contributed to" the child's development into "a healthy, happy, and friendly child." The court also commended Hassler's "generous allowance" of additional summer visitation to Mertz and her facilitation of FaceTime contact with Mertz. But the court expressed concern with "the failure of the parties to communicate, show each other mutual respect, and the degree of conflict between them." The court cited the parents' dueling complaints to the department of human services, complaints that proved unfounded. Ultimately, the court was more ...


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