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Pistek v. Karsjens

Court of Appeals of Iowa

May 1, 2019

KAREN K. PISTEK, Plaintiff-Appellant,
DALTON S. KARSJENS, Defendant-Appellee.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Monroe County, Lucy J. Gamon, Judge.

         Karen Pistek appeals the district court order establishing paternity, custody, visitation, and support of the child she shares with Dalton Karsjens.

          Cathleen J. Siebrecht of Siebrecht Law Firm, Des Moines, for appellant.

          Jenna K. Lain of The Law Office of Jenna K. Lain, PLLC, Corydon, for appellee.

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

          Doyle, Judge.

         Karen Pistek and Dalton Karsjens are the parents of O.K.K., who was born in 2016. In December 2016, Karen filed a petition to establish paternity, custody, visitation, and support of O.K.K. Following trial, the district court entered an order establishing Dalton's paternity and granting him physical care of O.K.K. On appeal, Karen contends the court abused its discretion in denying her request for an additional day of testimony. She asks us to grant her physical care of the child or, in the alternative, to grant her additional visitation. Finally, she contends the court erred in calculating child support and reserving jurisdiction on the issue of a post-secondary-education subsidy. We consider each argument in turn.

         I. Additional Testimony.

         We first consider Karen's challenge to the district court's denial of her request to add a third day of testimony. Karen's attorney first made the request on the afternoon of the second day of trial, but another case was set to begin trial the following day. Her attorney then asked if the court would consider scheduling a third day of testimony at a later date, and the court ventured that a date would not be available for "four or five months." After Dalton's attorney objected to having a lengthy gap between testimony, the court denied the request. After the trial concluded, Karen filed a motion to reconsider her request asserting she "had approximately 16 witnesses that were not able to testify on her behalf due to time constraints." The court denied the motion. We review the district court's determination to place time limitations on the hearing for an abuse of discretion. See In re Marriage of Ihle, 577 N.W.2d 64, 67 (Iowa Ct. App. 1998) ("It is generally recognized that matters relating to the course and conduct of a trial, not regulated by statute or rule, are within the discretion of the trial judge."); In re Marriage of Rebouche, 587 N.W.2d 795, 798 (Iowa Ct. App. 1998) ("[W]e afford trial judges wide discretion over the course and conduct of a trial, including such issues as the number of witnesses on a certain point."). This discretion is necessary to allow the trial court "to prevent an undue waste of time, avoid needless presentation of cumulative evidence, and to responsibly manage the stream of cases through the spectrum of justice." Ihle, 577 N.W.2d at 67. We will find an abuse of discretion only if the district court exercises its discretion "on grounds or for reasons that are clearly untenable or to an extent clearly unreasonable." In re Marriage of Schenkelberg, 824 N.W.2d 481, 484 (Iowa 2012).

         In its written ruling denying Karen's motion to reconsider, the district court noted that the parties indicated the trial should be set for two days when they filed the trial scheduling and discovery plan in August 2017. In September 2017, the district court set the matter for a two-day trial. Noting that the case involved the custody of one minor child, the court observed: "Such cases are very rarely set for more than two days in this district. Such cases are sometimes set for three days upon the advance request of the parties. No such request was made in this case." Rather, Karen did not request an additional day of testimony until the afternoon of the second day of trial. The court noted its schedule did not allow for a third day of trial and that it was likely a third day could not not be scheduled for several months, given the court scheduling in the district. It also noted that it did its best to equitably divide the time available to the parties, who received the same amount of time to present evidence at trial. Concluding that "[i]t would not be in the best interest of the minor child to continue the case to a later date for additional evidence or testimony," the court denied the motion. We find no abuse of discretion.

         II. Physical Care.

         We review custody determinations de novo. See Mason v. Hall, 419 N.W.2d 367, 369 (Iowa 1988). Because the district court had the opportunity to listen to and observe the parties and witnesses, we give weight to its fact findings, especially when considering witness credibility. See McKee v. Dicus, 785 N.W.2d 733, 736 (Iowa Ct. App. 2010). However, we are not bound by them. See id.

         Our first and governing consideration is the best interests of the child. See Iowa R. App. P. 6.904(3)(o). Our goal is to place the child in the care of the parent who is best able to minister to the child's long-term best interests. See In re Marriage of Winter, 223 N.W.2d 165, 166 (Iowa 1974). In making this determination, we consider the list of factors set forth in Iowa Code section 598.41 (2017), along with other relevant factors. See Iowa Code § 600B.40(2) (directing the court to apply the provisions of section 598.41 in determining custody in paternity actions); In re Marriage of Hansen, 733 N.W.2d 683, 696 (Iowa 2007).

The court, insofar as is reasonable and in the best interest of the child, shall order the custody award . . . which will assure the child the opportunity for the maximum continuing physical and emotional contact with both parents . . ., and which will encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities of raising the child unless direct physical harm or ...

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