IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF CASSIDEE SLIGER AND JOSEPH SLIGER Upon the Petition of CASSIDEE SLIGER, n/k/a CASSIDEE PARKS, Petitioner-Appellee, And Concerning JOSEPH SLIGER, Respondent-Appellant.
from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Jeanie K.
father appeals the denial of his petition to modify his
child-support obligation. REVERSED AND
Simons of Simons Law Firm, PLC, West Des Moines, for
Benjamin Folladori of Marberry Law Firm, PC, Urbandale, for
Considered by Potterfield, P.J., and Bower and McDonald, JJ.
POTTERFIELD, Presiding Judge.
Sliger appeals from the district court's denial of his
petition to modify his child-support obligation, arguing his
reduction in income since the entry of the 2016 decree
dissolving his marriage to Cassidee Sliger (now known as
Cassidee Parks) entitles him to a reduction pursuant to Iowa
Code section 598.21C(2) (2017). John asserts his reduction in
income was not voluntary and the court was wrong to deny him
relief. See In re Marriage of McKenzie, 709 N.W.2d
528, 533 (Iowa 2006) ("One of the factors we consider in
determining if we will use a parent's earning capacity,
rather than a parent's actual earnings, in order to meet
the needs of the children and do justice between the parties
is whether the parent's inability to earn a greater
income is self-inflicted or voluntary."). Cassidee asks
that we affirm the district court's ruling and award her
appellate attorney fees.
review a child-support modification action de novo.
Id. at 531.
we give weight to the findings of fact made by the district
court, especially as to the credibility of witness, we are
not bound by those findings." Id.
of the parties' stipulated dissolution decree,
Joseph's child-support obligation was calculated at $800
per month-based upon his annual income of approximately $42,
000 and imputing income of $28, 000 to Cassidee. Then in
October 2017,  Joseph, who had worked as a detention
officer at a local jail for a number of years, got into a
verbal altercation with an inmate. During the altercation,
Joseph removed his shirt and suggested he and the inmate
fight. As a result of the incident, Joseph's boss
recommended he be fired. Joseph appealed the recommendation,
but the sheriff determined Joseph did not have the
temperament to work as a detention officer. Joseph was given
the option to submit his resignation in lieu of termination,
and he did so. Within a few days, Joseph began working at a
private landscaping company, where he earns $12 per hour; the
work is seasonal. At the trial on the petition to modify,
Joseph testified he expects his new annual income to be $24,
888, including the unemployment benefits he receives during
district court denied Joseph's request to modify his
child-support obligation, noting that while Joseph now earns
much less than he earned before, "Joseph's voluntary
acts taken during the course of his prior employment are an
impediment to modification. His children's need for
sufficient support is unabated, and Joseph remains
responsible for that support." In reaching this
conclusion, the court stated:
Joseph's resignation from the position in question was a
direct result of his elective on-the-job conduct. Joseph may
not have intended to deprive his children of support. But his
elective conduct that led to his resignation evidences a
reckless disregard by Joseph for his children's
well-being because he failed to consider the monetary
consequences of his actions.
court is to consider whether a parent's reduction in
income is voluntary. See,e.g., In re
Marriage of Foley, 501 N.W.2d 497, 500 (Iowa 1993).
Moreover, a parent is not free to make choices without regard
to his or her obligation to their children. See
McKenzie, 709 N.W.2d at 534. But modification is not
denied in all cases when the noncustodial parent's income
decreases. See, e.g., In re MarriageWalters, 575 N.W.2d 739, 741 (Iowa 1998) (finding a
noncustodial parent's reduction in income and earning
capacity that was the result of his voluntarily criminal
activity was not done with an improper intent to deprive his
children of support); Foley, 501 N.W.2d at 500
(finding that an obligor's reduction in income due to
termination of employment for insubordination was not
voluntary or self-inflicted); Boquette v. Boquette,
247 N.W. 255, 256 (Iowa 1933) (determining an obligor's
demotion with resulting lower salary justified reduction of
support obligation); Nicolls v. Nicolls, 235 N.W.
288, 289 (Iowa 1931) (finding the discharge from employment
and inability to obtain a job with comparable pay justified
reduction of support obligation); In re Marriage of
Hackett, No. 17-1051, 2018 WL 2727757, at *5-6 (Iowa Ct.
App. June 6, 2018) (finding the district court erred in
refusing to modify child-support obligation after father was
terminated from his employment for continued misuse of the
company credit card after being warned by his employer and
where father now earned approximately half of his former
salary); In re Marriage of Knust, No. 16-1664, 2017
WL 3283301, at *1-2 (Iowa Ct. App. Aug. 2, 2017) (concluding
the father's decision to drive while intoxicated, which
resulted in his transfer to a lower paying job, did not
qualify as a self-inflicted or voluntary reduction of income
that prevented the reduction of his child-support
obligation); In re Marriage of Blum, 526 N.W.2d 164,
166 (Iowa Ct. App.1994) (finding the reduction in income was
not self-inflicted or voluntary where the noncustodial parent
lost his job in Harlan, Iowa, and refused to move to Denison
to take a higher paying job as he wanted to stay in Harlan
where his children lived); In re Marriage of Drury,
475 N.W.2d 668, 672 (Iowa Ct. App.1991) (finding an honorable
discharge from military and ...