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Luck v. Salmon

Court of Appeals of Iowa

August 1, 2018

AMANDA L. LUCK, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
MICHAEL F. SALMON, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Joel D. Novak, Judge.

         A father appeals from a district court order granting the mother physical care of their child rather than joint physical care. The father also appeals an award of attorney fees to the mother.

          Jason W. Miller of Patterson Law Firm, L.L.P., Des Moines, for appellant.

          Sarah M. Baumgartner of Hedberg & Boulton, P.C., Des Moines, for appellee.

          Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Potterfield and Tabor, JJ.

          TABOR, Judge.

         Michael Salmon and Amanda Luck are the parents of an elementary-school-aged son, K.S. Michael appeals the grant of K.S.'s physical care to Amanda and asks us to modify the decree to order joint physical care. In the alternative, Michael asks for additional visitation. He also seeks reduction or elimination of his obligation to pay Amanda's trial attorney fees. Because we reach the same conclusions as the district court after our fresh review of the facts, we affirm the physical care and visitation provisions. We find no abuse of discretion in the award of trial attorney fees and remand for a calculation of reasonable appellate attorney fees to be paid by Michael to Amanda.

         I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

         Michael was twenty-six and Amanda was sixteen years old when they started dating. Amanda became pregnant at age seventeen. Michael and Amanda lived together for the first five years of K.S.'s life. Later they dated off-and-on, but the relationship ended in 2011. In Amanda's view, she provided the bulk of parenting for K.S. while Michael traveled for his work. For a few years, the parties shared custody, establishing their own schedule. Michael was involved in K.S.'s sports endeavors and coached his football team. Michael also had custody of his teenaged daughter from a previous relationship.

         Amanda alleged Michael was violent toward her during their relationship. He was arrested for domestic violence in 2010 after trying to force Amanda into the backseat of a car and pushing her to the pavement; he later pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct. In addition, Amanda obtained a protective order against Michael in July 2016 after receiving information that he was making threats toward her. The parties entered a consent agreement outlining Michael's visitation. Also in 2016, Amanda filed a petition to establish custody, child support, and visitation.

         The district court held a trial on her petition in April and May 2017 and entered its ruling July 10, granting the parties joint legal custody. The court granted physical care to Amanda and visitation to Michael. His visitation with K.S. was set on alternating weekends and Wednesday evenings. The court also established a summer and holiday visitation schedule and ordered Michael to pay Amanda child support. Finally, the court ordered Michael to pay $20, 000 in Amanda's attorney fees. Michael filed a motion to reconsider; he requested joint physical care and a reduction in attorney fees. The court declined to grant joint physical care or change the amount of the fee award.[1] But the court granted Michael's request for more visitation time by extending his Wednesday visitation to Thursday mornings.

         Michael appeals the denial of his request for joint physical care. In the alternative, he asks the court to modify the schedule to increase his visitation to two days per week.

         II. Standard of Review and Legal Principles

         We review custody decisions de novo. See Iowa R. App. P. 6.907; Lambert v. Everist, 418 N.W.2d 40, 42 (Iowa 1988) (employing same legal analysis to resolve questions concerning custody of a child born to unmarried parents as in case of divorcing parents). "[W]e give considerable weight to the sound judgment of the trial court who has the benefit of hearing and ...


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