IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF BONNIE ELIZABETH SEELY AND CHAD DONALD SEELY Upon the Petition of BONNIE ELIZABETH SEELY, Petitioner-Appellee, And Concerning CHAD DONALD SEELY, Respondent-Appellant.
from the Iowa District Court for Linn County, Fae E.
appeals child support and postsecondary education provisions
of a modification decree. AFFIRMED AS MODIFIED AND REMANDED.
J. Seidl of Seidl & Seidl, P.L.C., Cedar Rapids, for
Richard C. Garberson and Kerry A. Finley of Shuttleworth
& Ingersoll, P.L.C., Cedar Rapids, for appellee.
Considered by Danilson, C.J., and Mullins and McDonald, JJ.
and Bonnie Seely married in 1994 and divorced in 2012
pursuant to a stipulated decree. The stipulated decree
provided for joint legal custody and joint physical care of
the parties' four children, M.S. (born 1995), N.S. (born
1997), H.S. (born 2001), and J.S. (born 2003), with neither
party to pay child support to the other. Subsequently, Chad
relocated from the Cedar Rapids area, where the parties
lived, to the Clinton area for work. Because the
joint-physical-care arrangement was no longer practicable,
Bonnie petitioned to modify the parties' decree, seeking
physical care of the children, child support, and a change in
the postsecondary education subsidy. The district court
granted Bonnie's petition. Chad timely filed this appeal.
On appeal, he contends the district court erred in
calculating child support and erred in determining the
necessary expenses for the postsecondary education subsidy.
This court's review of a modification order is de novo.
See In re Marriage of Mihm, 842 N.W.2d 378, 381
turning to the merits of the questions presented, we address
a significant issue bearing on the resolution of this appeal:
the record, it's stale. It's cliché to say
that justice delayed is justice denied. But it's a
cliché for a reason, it's true. Here, the
modification petition was filed in July 2014. Even though the
only issues for trial were child support and the
postsecondary education subsidy, the matter did not come on
for trial until eighteen months later in January 2016. Four
months later, on April 5, 2016, the district court issued an
order granting the petition to modify. Of note, the district
court's order merely copied verbatim Bonnie's
pretrial statement of proposed relief. After the district
court entered its order granting the petition, Chad timely
filed a motion to enlarge or amend pursuant to Iowa Rule of
Civil Procedure 1.904(2). The district court ruled on the
motion on May 11, 2017-more than one year after the motion
was filed. Because of the delay, the parties are now on
appeal contesting child support based on a record that, more
likely than not, bears little relationship to the
parties' present personal and financial circumstances.
With this in mind, we turn to the merits of the appeal.
first address the issue of the amount of child support.
"Our legislature has established a rebuttable
presumption that our child support guidelines yield the
proper amount of monthly support." In re Marriage of
McDermott, 827 N.W.2d 671, 684 (Iowa 2013). "The
child support guidelines are designed to calculate an amount
of funds that will cover the normal and reasonable costs of
supporting a child. In fact, there is a presumption the
guidelines will yield a support amount that will encompass
the normal needs of a child, except for medical support and
postsecondary education expenses." Id. at
685-86. "The court may not deviate from the amount of
the child support yielded by the guidelines 'without a
written finding that the guidelines would be unjust or
inappropriate under specific criteria.'"
Id. at 684. "All income that is not anomalous,
uncertain, or speculative should be included when determining
a party's child support obligations." In re
Marriage of Nelson, 570 N.W.2d 103, 105 (Iowa 1997). In
cases with variable income, Iowa courts often, but not
always, use an average of earnings over several years.
See In re Marriage of Hagerla, 698 N.W.2d 329, 332
(Iowa Ct. App. 2005).
parties are well familiar with the facts and circumstances of
the case, and we need not discuss them in any great detail.
In short, Chad is a long-time employee of grocery store
chain. He relocated to Clinton to become the manager of a
store undergoing extensive renovations. Because of the manner
in which the company compensated store managers based on the
profitability of the store, it was uncertain at the time of
trial what Chad's future income would be. Rather than
finding Chad's actual income at the time of trial and
applying the child support guidelines, the district court
created a support scheme in which Chad would pay a base level
of support based on a minimum salary amount and then
seventeen percent of his gross income over the minimum salary
amount. Chad challenges this support scheme as erroneous.
little trouble in concluding the district court erred in
determining the amount of child support to be paid. The
district court failed to determine the parties'
respective net monthly incomes as required by the guidelines.
While Chad's future compensation was somewhat
indeterminate, his actual compensation at the time of trial
was not. The possibility that Chad's future income was
indeterminate was not, in and of itself, sufficient reason to
deviate from the child support guidelines. Instead, any
material changes in Chad's future income could have been
addressed in a subsequent modification proceeding. In
addition, the district court's determination Chad should
pay as child support an additional seventeen percent of his
gross income over a certain threshold is an unjustified and
substantial deviation from the guidelines formula. This
formula worked a substantial injustice to Chad who would be
forced to pay a significant amount more than the guidelines
required as his income increased.
leaves us with the question of the appropriate remedy. As
noted above, almost four years have passed since Bonnie first
filed for modification. Almost two and one-half years have
passed since the time of trial. There is little point in
remanding this matter for a determination of the appropriate
amount of child support based on the evidence introduced at
the time of trial. The parties' respective incomes have
now undoubtedly changed. At least two, and perhaps three, of
the parties' children are no longer eligible for child
support. Given the foregoing, we remand this matter to the
district court to determine child support for the child or
children still subject to support based on the parties'
present financial circumstances and the current child support
guidelines and modify the child support provision
accordingly. See In re Marriage of Hoffman, 867
N.W.2d 26, 37 (Iowa 2015) (relying on this remedy). See,
e.g., In re Marriage of Kapfer, No. 17-0683, 2017 WL
5185448, at *5 (Iowa Ct. App. Nov. 8, 2017) (remanding for
determination of support based on present circumstances);
In re Marriage of Rogers, No. 16-1571, 2017 WL
4842306, at *6 (Iowa Ct. App. Oct. 25, 2017) ("Because
the district court improperly imputed income to Jessica when
determining the child-support obligation and should have used
the average of Jason's total income, we remand for
recalculation of the award. On remand, the district court
should recalculate the obligation 'based on the present
financial circumstances of the parties and the child support
guidelines.'"); Ruden v. Peach, 904 N.W.2d
410, 416 (Iowa Ct. App. 2017) ("We remand to the
district court to determine the issues of visitation and
support based on the present circumstances."); In re
Marriage of Comstock, No. 15-1570, 2016 WL 4803930, at
*9 (Iowa Ct. App. Sept. 14, 2016) ("We remand this case
to the district court for determination of Jessica's
child-support obligation based upon the present financial
circumstances of the parties."); Walker v.
Lusk, No. 15-0784, 2016 WL 3002912, at *5 (Iowa Ct. App.
May 25, 2016) ("We remand to the district court to
recalculate Brittani's obligation based on the present
financial circumstances of the parties and the child support
guidelines."); In re Marriage of Thomas, No.
02-0317, 2002 WL 31313690, at *3 (Iowa Ct. App. Oct. 16,
2002) ("We remand this case to the district court for
determination of Kenneth's child support obligation based
upon the present financial circumstances of the
address Chad's challenge to the postsecondary education
subsidy. The district court ordered Chad to pay "up to
$7000 (toward room and board and tuition) per year for each
child's education, in addition to 1/3 of necessary
expenses associated with the child's college education .
. . Necessary expenses shall include, but not be limited to
the purchase price, insurance, maintenance of an automobile,
and the cost of a cell phone." Chad raises two
challenges to the award. He contends the district court erred
in determining the amount of the subsidy. He also contends
the district court erred in including as necessary costs the
purchase, insurance, and maintenance for an automobile.
district court erred in calculating the postsecondary
education subsidy. The supreme court recently clarified the
manner to determine costs for necessary postsecondary
education expenses. See In re Marriage of ...