IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF CASSIDY R. VANDERBILT AND AARON M. VANDERBILT Upon the Petition of CASSIDY R. VANDERBILT, Petitioner-Appellee, And Concerning AARON M. VANDERBILT, Respondent-Appellant.
from the Iowa District Court for Bremer County, DeDra L.
former husband appeals the district court's denial of his
motion to set aside a default dissolution decree.
J. Murphy, Dubuque, for appellant.
D. Parsons of Olsen & Parsons Law Firm, Cedar Falls, for
Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Tabor and May, JJ.
district court refused to set aside the default decree
dissolving the marriage of Aaron and Cassidy Vanderbilt.
Aaron appeals, contending he was "misled by his spouse
and her attorney." He claims he did not receive notice
of default because he moved out of state and had no access to
a computer. The district court did not find Aaron's
excuses credible. Deferring to those credibility findings, we
Facts and Prior Proceedings
and Aaron married in 2012. They have one child, Z.V., born in
2013. Cassidy petitioned for divorce in late December 2017.
Just before Cassidy filed her petition, she and Aaron met for
a settlement conference at the office of Cassidy's
attorney, Jill Dillon. Dillon explained the parties were
trying to resolve issues of custody and support before Aaron
moved to Colorado. Dillon told Aaron at the conference she
was representing Cassidy. Aaron did not have his own lawyer.
accepted service of the petition and original notice in
January 2018. When Aaron did not file an answer, the district
court set a default-judgment hearing for April 23, 2018. When
Aaron did not appear for that hearing, the court entered a
default decree dissolving the Vanderbilts' marriage. The
decree granted Cassidy physical care of Z.V. with reasonable
visitation for Aaron. The decree also ordered Aaron to pay
$557 each month in child support. The Child Support Recovery
Unit issued an income-withholding order for Aaron in early
next month, as a self-represented litigant, Aaron filed a
"complaint to the court" alleging attorney Dillon
conducted a "deceptive mediation" at her office in
December 2017. Aaron claimed he did not know Dillon
represented Cassidy. He also asserted he could not check the
e-filing system for several months after his move to Colorado
because he had no access to a computer. Aaron also filed a
belated answer to the dissolution petition as well as a
motion for temporary custody and visitation.
district court set a July 2018 hearing on whether the default
decree should be set aside under Iowa Rule of Civil Procedure
1.977. Cassidy had new counsel at the hearing. Aaron remained
self-represented. He testified he was unaware of the April
default hearing. But under cross examination, he acknowledged
receiving the petition and original notice. The original
notice warned of possible default if he did not submit an
answer within twenty days.
support of her position, Cassidy offered a text-message
exchange with Aaron from mid-January 2018 in which he said,
"Got the papers today." She responded, "Yeah I
think those just say you're agreeing to proceed
right??" He asked, "Yes, do you know if I have to
get notarized?" And Cassidy answered, "Well I think
she already did when we met with her last." Aaron
questioned the authenticity of the exhibit, testifying he
believed Cassidy or attorney Dillon fabricated those texts.
submitted exhibits showing both the clerk of court and her
attorney sent Aaron notice of the default hearing. The clerk
testified she had not received a return notice that the mail
was undeliverable. Attorney Dillon testified she sent that
notice to Aaron on March 19 at his Aurora, Colorado
address. But Aaron testified he did not receive
that notice because he had three addresses, two in Colorado
and one in Utah, since moving from Iowa. Aaron ...