from the Iowa District Court for Hardin County, James C.
father challenges surname, visitation, transportation, child
support, and tax credit issues in a decree issued under Iowa
Code section 600B.40 (2017).
Christy R. Liss and Joshua L. Christensen of Clark, Butler,
Walsh & Hamann, Waterloo, for appellant.
L. See of Peglow, O'Hare & See, P.L.C., Marshalltown,
Considered by Potterfield, P.J., and Tabor and Bower, JJ.
days before his son, J.C.,  was born, Benjamin Jass
petitioned to establish paternity, custody, visitation, and
child support under Iowa Code section 610B.40 (2017). The
district court issued a decree granting joint legal custody
and placing physical care with the child's mother, Carrie
Van Hugten. On appeal, Benjamin does not challenge the
physical-care arrangement. Instead, he seeks a change in the
child's surname, expanded visitation, shared
transportation, decreased child support, and alternating tax
our de novo review leads us to the same conclusions as the
district court's thorough and well-reasoned decree, we
affirm-with a minor modification to the duration of the
child-care expense variance from the support guidelines. On
the issue of attorney fees, we find no abuse of discretion in
the district court's award of $12, 500 toward
Carrie's trial representation, but we decline to award
appellate attorney fees on top of that amount.
Facts and Prior Proceedings
and Benjamin met on Match.com in October 2016 and dated for
about five months. They broke up a few days before Carrie
learned she was pregnant. J.C. was born in October 2017.
Because paternity had not yet been established, Carrie did
not list a father on the birth certificate. She also gave the
child the surname Van Hugten. Carrie is an active-duty major
in the United States Marine Corps, earning $123, 836 per
year, plus sustenance and housing stipends. Based on a
service-limitation rule, she must retire from the Marines on
April 1, 2020.
2014 through 2016, Carrie was married to Leon Van Hugten, a
member of the Dutch Army. She and Van Hugten, who still lives in
the Netherlands, had three children together-twins born in
2015 and a daughter born in 2016. The twins arrived
prematurely; one died in the hospital and the other has
special health issues. Those children all have the surname
Van Hugten. Carrie and the children live in Newton.
had also been married; his wife died of cancer in August
2016. They had two sons, who were aged five and nine at the
time of the hearing in this case. Benjamin remarried in June
2018 to Kathryn, whom he met in the summer of 2017 on a
"Facebook widow group." Kathryn brought two
daughters, ages ten and thirteen, to the Jass household.
Benjamin works as a special education teacher in the Iowa
Falls-Alden school district, earning $63, 282 per year. He
also earns an additional $2249 a year from coaching tennis
and $6073 from the farm he operates with his father.
early October 2017, Benjamin filed a petition requesting DNA
testing to confirm his paternity of the baby Carrie expected
to deliver by a scheduled caesarean section in mid-October.
The petition also asked the court to determine his rights and
obligations including joint custody, physical care, child
support, and tax dependency exemptions. The district court
heard testimony on Benjamin's petition in August 2018.
October 2018 decree granted the parents joint custody of J.C.
and placed physical care with Carrie. The decree allowed
Benjamin visitation every other weekend during the school
year and three weeks of interaction in the summer, as well as
certain holidays. The court required Benjamin to provide all
transportation for visitations but offset his child support
for that burden. And the court ordered Benjamin to pay
$688.11 in monthly child support (which included an upward
departure from the child support guidelines for child-care
expenses) and an additional $26.95 per month in back child
support. The court decided Carrie would be entitled to claim
the child as a dependent on her taxes every year. The court
denied Benjamin's request the child's surname be
changed to Jass or hyphenated as Van Hugten-Jass. Instead,
the court directed Jass be added to the birth certificate as
the child's second middle name. Finally, the court
awarded trial attorney fees to Carrie in the amount of $12,
appeal spans six topics: (1) his son's surname, (2)
visitation, (3) transportation, (4) child support, (5) tax
benefits, and (6) attorney fees.
Scope and Standards of Review
engage in a de novo review of equitable disputes involving a
child's surname. Montgomery v. Wells, 708 N.W.2d
704, 705-06 (Iowa Ct. App. 2005). We give weight to the
district court's factual findings, especially when
considering the credibility of witnesses, but we are not
bound by them. Id.
review de novo issues involving visitation. Callender v.
Skiles, 623 N.W.2d 852, 854 (Iowa 2001). Likewise, we
review child-support awards anew, Dye v. Geiger, 554
N.W.2d 538, 539 (Iowa 1996), though we evaluate the district
court's interpretation of the child support guidelines
for errors at law. In re Seay, 746 N.W.2d 833, 834
(Iowa 2008). We also recognize the discretionary aspect of a
district court's decision whether to impose a variance.
In re Marriage of Kupferschmidt, 705 N.W.2d 327, 334
(Iowa Ct. App. 2005) (holding "district court did not
abuse its discretion in refusing to deviate from the
same token, we review the award of attorney fees for an abuse
of discretion. In re Fiscus, 819 N.W.2d 420, 422
(Iowa Ct. App. 2012).
petition, Benjamin asked the court to order the child be
given the surname Jass. On the birth certificate, Carrie
recorded her son's name as "[J.C.] Van Hugten."
At the hearing, Benjamin said he did not object to his
son's first and middle names but believed "my son
should have my last name." Benjamin testified he was
opposed to "any type of hyphenated name" and
expressed incredulity as to why the child "would need to
be tied to her ex-husband in any way." Benjamin did not
tell the court why it would advantage his son to have Jass as
provided more personal testimony concerning her connection to
the Van Hugten name. She first noted her twin daughter who
died, M.V.H., was buried in the Newton Union Cemetery. Carrie
then explained that she "almost died" giving birth
to her next daughter, E.V.H. From there, she testified:
"I was about ready to have my C-section with [my son]
[a]nd so I changed my last name to Van Hugten in anticipation
of what could become my death . . . so that I could be buried
with my daughter . . . with the last name Van Hugten."
Carrie owns a burial plot with a single headstone bearing her
deceased daughter's name; she plans to be buried in the
same plot under the same last name.
their son's surname, Carrie testified her preference
would be Van Hugten so he would have the same last name as
his half-siblings and not feel like "an outcast in his
own home." She continued: "It's the Van Hugten
home, and for him to be the Jass boy, and especially if Ben
is awarded every other weekend, I don't think that's
conducive to elementary school." But Carrie also
testified she understood Benjamin's position and was
amenable to a dual last name: "like, Van Hugten and then
space and then Jass."
district court admittedly elected "an option not
proposed by either party." The court decided the child
"should have Jass as an additional middle name"
creating the full name [J.C.] Jass Van Hugten. The court
reasoned: "Many families have used as a middle name a
historic family surname that might otherwise be lost, to help
a child maintain awareness of his or her
appeal, Benjamin renews his request for the surname
substitution. But in addition, he now lobbies for the
compromise position of assigning his son the hyphenated
surname Van Hugten-Jass or the unhyphenated, but dual surname
Van Hugten Jass.
original naming disputes, we focus on the best interests of
the child.Montgomery, 708 N.W.2d at 706-08.
Our courts have abandoned the outdated notion that a child
should always bear the last name of his or her father.
Id. (quoting In re Marriage of Gulsvig, 498
N.W .2d 725, 729 (Iowa 1993)). On the flipside, a mother
"should gain no advantage from her unilateral act in
naming [the child]." Id. Combining both
parents' last names into a dual surname may be an
equitable solution in some circumstances, but not in every
case. Gulsvig, 498 N.W.2d at 729; see
Richard J. Lussier, Delaney v. Appeal from Probate: When
is a Dual Surname in the Best Interest of the Child?, 9
Conn. Prob. L.J. 161, 167 (1994) ("Adoption of a dual
surname is not always in the best interest of the minor
typical appellate court style, we weigh a non-exhaustive, yet
lengthy, list of considerations in gauging a child's best
interest in a naming ...