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In re The Marriage of Haidar

Court of Appeals of Iowa

October 10, 2018

IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF MOHAMMAD M. HAIDAR AND PATRICIA A. HAIDAR Upon the Petition of MOHAMMAD M. HAIDAR, Petitioner-Appellee, And Concerning PATRICIA A. HAIDAR, Respondent-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Jeanie K. Vaudt, Judge.

         Respondent appeals from the decree of dissolution of marriage entered upon default and default judgment.

          Jacob van Cleaf of Van Cleaf & McCormack Law Firm, LLP, Des Moines, for appellant.

          James R. Hinchliff of Shindler, Anderson, Goplerud & Weese, PC, West Des Moines, for appellee.

          Considered by Potterfield, P.J., and Bower and McDonald, JJ.

          MCDONALD, JUDGE.

         The question presented in this appeal is whether the district court's entry of default judgment is justified when a party fails to appear personally for trial but the party's attorney is present and able to proceed in the client's absence.

         I.

         Mohammad and Patricia Haidar married in North Carolina in 2006. They entered into a separation agreement in 2014. As part of that agreement, Mohammad agreed to pay temporary support to Patricia in the amount of $850 per month in semi-monthly installments until the time a dissolution decree was entered. Mohammad retired from the armed services and moved to Iowa in late December 2014 or early January 2015. At the time he moved, Mohammad assumed Patricia had followed through and finalized the parties' divorce. Subsequently, Mohammad learned the parties' divorce was not final.

         Upon finding out the parties were not divorced, Mohammad filed this dissolution action in Iowa in August 2016. Patricia continued to reside in North Carolina, but she was served with notice of the petition. She filed her answer. She engaged in discovery, pretrial disclosures, pretrial motion practice, and pretrial conferences. Upon Patricia's motion, the district court entered an order on temporary matters. In the order, the district court enforced the parties' separation agreement and ordered Mohammad to pay temporary spousal support in the amount of $850 per month to be paid semi-monthly. The district court also ordered the matter be tried in April 2017. The uniform scheduling order provided "[c]ounsel shall be prepared to complete the examination of Petitioner and Respondent as the first two witnesses at trial."

         Six days before the scheduled trial date, Patricia filed a motion to continue trial. In the alternative, she requested she be allowed to appear telephonically. In support of her motion, Patricia claimed she lacked the financial resources to travel to Iowa for trial because Mohammad had missed four recent spousal support payments. The district court denied the motion on the ground Patricia had been aware of the scheduled trial date for months.

         Things came to a head on the day of trial. Patricia failed to appear at the trial. Her counsel was present and stated he was able to proceed without his client's personal presence. Counsel noted most of the evidence relevant to the issues to be determined consisted of financial statements and other financial documents. The district court denied the request to proceed without Patricia being personally present.

         Mohammad moved for the entry of default and default judgment. He argued Patricia was in default because she failed to be present for trial as set forth in Iowa Rule of Civil Procedure 1.971(3). He also argued default was appropriate because Patricia failed to comply with court orders as set forth in Rule 1.971(4). The district court granted Mohammad's motion on both grounds.

         The dissolution decree assumed all of Mohammad's evidence to be true, approved the property division set forth in the 2014 separation agreement, determined neither party would pay spousal support, released Mohammad from any past obligation to make support payments from January 1, 2015, through October 31, 2016, and denied Patricia's request for a portion of Mohammad's past military housing allowance. Patricia filed a motion to enlarge ...


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