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In re Marriage of Barry

Court of Appeals of Iowa

December 19, 2018

IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF CHAD E. BARRY AND KATHLEEN M. BARRY Upon the Petition of CHAD E. BARRY, Petitioner-Appellant, And Concerning KATHLEEN M. BARRY, n/k/a KATHLEEN M. KRAMER, Respondent-Appellee.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Harrison County, Gregory W. Steensland, Judge.

         A father appeals from the denial of his petition to modify the custodial and physical care provisions of his dissolution decree.

          P. Shawn McCann of McGinn, Springer & Noethe, P.L.C., Council Bluffs, for appellant.

          Drew H. Kouris, Council Bluffs, for appellee.

          Heard by Vogel, P.J., and Vaitheswaran and McDonald, JJ.

          MCDONALD, JUDGE.

         This appeal arises out of Chad Barry's petition to modify the decree dissolving his marriage to Kathleen Barry, now known as Kathleen Kramer. At issue on appeal is the district court's denial of the petition to modify the custodial provisions of the decree, the district court's dismissal of Chad's application for contempt, and the district court's allocation of responsibility for certain debt and medical expenses.

         I.

         The record reflects the following. Chad and Kathleen married in 2007. They had two children together: BB boy, born in 2007, and BB girl, born in 2010.

         Chad and Kathleen had a tumultuous relationship from the outset. They filed for dissolution of the marriage in 2009 before reconciling. The parties sought dissolution of the marriage again in 2012. The proceeding was long and arduous. The district court described the animosity between Chad and Kathleen as "one of the most intense it ha[d] ever seen" and noted "that animosity toward each other has not served either of them well." The dissolution was final in May 2014. The district court granted the parents joint legal custody of the children, awarded Kathleen physical care of the children, and provided Chad with visitation. The decree contained the following guidance: "Both Kathleen and Chad need to clean up their act and start making decisions for their children and not for themselves or other vindictive purposes."

         The district court's guidance was not heeded; the positive feedback loop of anger and litigation had commenced. Not long after the entry of the decree, both parties filed applications for rule to show cause. In 2015, Chad filed a petition for modification. In his petition, Chad requested physical care of the children, alleging Kathleen failed to keep him informed of the children's activities, failed to consult him regarding medical issues, and refused phone calls between Chad and the children. The district court, already familiar with this family from the prior dissolution and contempt proceedings, found no material and substantial change in circumstances justifying modification. The district court concluded: "The evidence presented in this modification action doesn't really present anything new to this court. It is just further evidence on the continuing saga of utter distrust between Kathleen and Chad." The decree provided: "If these two parties don't get past their complete distrust of each other, they will not be the ones to suffer. The ones to suffer will be their children."

         The district court proved prescient. Shortly after the district court denied the prior modification petition, Chad filed the present modification action. In his petition, Chad requested sole legal custody and physical care of the children, alleging Kathleen sought to alienate him from the children. Kathleen requested that Chad be held responsible for unpaid federal taxes and she be held harmless for the same. She also sought reimbursement for one half of certain unpaid medical expenses for the children. The matter proceeded to trial along with several contempt claims. Upon consideration of the evidence, the court characterized the most recent case as "part of the ongoing saga between these parties." The district court denied the petition for modification. It found and concluded there was no material and substantial change in circumstances warranting modification and no campaign of alienation. The court declined to find Kathleen in contempt of court. The district court ordered Chad hold Kathleen harmless for unpaid 2011 taxes. The district court concluded Chad should be responsible for half of the children's unpaid medical bills in the amount of $3971.52. Chad filed this timely appeal.

         II.

         Modification actions are reviewed de novo. See Iowa R. App. P. 6.907; In re Marriage of Hoffman,867 N.W.2d 26, 32 (Iowa 2015) (noting modification actions lie in equity). Prior cases have little precedential value; instead the relevant law is applied to the unique facts and circumstances of each case. See In re Marriage of Kleist, 538 N.W.2d 273, 276 (Iowa 1995); In re Marriage of Snowden, No. 14-1920, 2015 WL 4233449, at *1 (Iowa Ct. App. July 9, 2015). Although review is de novo, appellate courts "afford deference to the district court for institutional and pragmatic reasons." Hensch v. Mysak,902 N.W.2d 822, 824 (Iowa Ct. App. 2017); see In re P.C., No. 16-0893, 2016 WL 4379580, at *2 (Iowa Ct. App. Aug. 17, 2016). "[T]he district court 'has reasonable discretion in determining whether modification is warranted and that discretion will ...


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