IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF JONATHAN PATRICK TRIBOLET AND LISA DIANA TRIBOLET Upon the Petition of JONATHAN PATRICK TRIBOLET, Petitioner-Appellee, And Concerning LISA DIANA TRIBOLET, n/k/a LISA DIANA HITCH, Respondent-Appellant.
from the Iowa District Court for Taylor County, Patrick W.
former wife appeals a district court order following cross
applications to modify the custody provisions of a
J. Zimmerman of Nielsen & Zimmerman, PLC, Corning, for
K. Maharry, Clive, and Jami J. Hagemeier of Williams &
Hagemeier, P.L.C., Des Moines, for appellee.
Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Tabor and Bower, JJ.
their 2015 divorce decree, the district court granted Lisa
and Jonathan Tribolet joint physical care of their two sons.
In 2017, the parties petitioned to modify that physical care
arrangement. Finding Lisa's move from Bedford to Atlantic
qualified as a substantial change in circumstances, the
district court granted modification. The court ordered split
physical care, awarding Lisa physical care of their older son
and Jonathan physical care of their younger son.
appeal, Lisa challenges this arrangement, arguing both
children would do better in her physical care. Because we
find the court-ordered arrangement is in each child's
best interests, we affirm. But we remand for the district
court to enter an order on appellate attorney fees.
Facts and Prior Proceedings
and Jonathan married in November 2008 and lived in Bedford.
They separated a year later but did not file for divorce
and Jonathan have two sons, J.A.T., born in 2004, and J.P.T.,
born in 2008. J.P.T. is the biological son of Lisa and
Jonathan. J.A.T. is Lisa's biological son, adopted by
Jonathan. Lisa also has two adult children. While Lisa and
Jonathan were separated, the two boys lived with Lisa during
the week and spent weekends with Jonathan. When they
divorced, Lisa and Jonathan agreed to joint custody and
shared physical care. They split the weekdays and alternated
weekend parenting times. Both Lisa and Jonathan lived in
Bedford, and the boys went to Bedford schools.
the separation, Jonathan moved in with his parents and
sister. In this extended family setting, Jonathan's
parents took on many of the daily caregiving duties for
J.A.T. and J.P.T. Although undiagnosed until 2013, Jonathan
had developed a brain tumor. He could not work and the
condition may have contributed to his lack of involvement in
caregiving duties. Jonathan received treatment and achieved
an almost full recovery except for some minor memory lapses.
He returned to work at a manufacturing plant in Corning.
divorcing Jonathan, Lisa married Robert Hitch. Robert has
physical care of his thirteen-year-old daughter from a prior
marriage. In June 2017, Lisa and Robert moved to Atlantic-
about one hour away from Bedford. Lisa now works as a nurse
consultant for an insurance company from an office in her
home. Before that, she worked as a hospice nurse, which
required traveling a "considerable distance" to see
months after her move, Lisa petitioned to modify the decree,
seeking physical care of the children. She alleged a
substantial change in circumstances arose when Jonathan moved
in with his fiancée, Megan, leaving the boys in his
parents' home. Jonathan delegated most of his parenting
duties to his parents and sister, according to Lisa's
application. And she alleged Jonathan's family-
especially his mother-treated J.A.T. less favorably than
J.P.T. Lisa believed the favoritism hurt both boys. Lisa
asserted she could minister to their needs better as a
answered, alleging Lisa's move to Atlantic was a
substantial change in circumstances. Jonathan believed both boys
would fare better in his physical care. He pointed to
Lisa's lack of involvement with the children's
schooling and extracurricular activities. He alleged her
disengagement contributed to J.A.T.'s ongoing behavioral
and academic issues.
awaiting trial, Lisa and Jonathan agreed to a temporary
custody arrangement keeping J.P.T. in Jonathan's physical
care and transferring care of J.A.T. to Lisa. J.A.T. began
attending school in Atlantic.
trial, the court appointed a custody evaluator to provide an
impartial opinion on the care arrangement. Dr. Sheila
Pottebaum conducted a series of interviews with Lisa,
Jonathan, J.A.T., and J.P.T., in several configurations: the
parents individually and together; the children individually
and together; and the children with each parent. She also
interviewed Robert and Megan. She considered the parents'
medical and employment records, the children's school
records, and letters of support from friends and family.
Pottebaum concluded both Lisa and Jonathan are competent and
loving parents. She found both had relied on extended family
to help out. But Jonathan did not "appear as though he
took on many of the routine parenting tasks" since he
moved in with his parents in 2009. The evaluator further
noted, "While it is very possible that Jon's family
members provided solid structure and routine, they are not
the parents . . . and it remained Jon's responsibility to
provide the parenting." The boys reported Jonathan
sometimes has dinner with them but spends nights at
Megan's residence. The boys also reported Jonathan takes
them to their sports activities.
told the evaluator Jonathan lived with her for about six
months until news came that the court would reevaluate the
parenting plan. During that stretch, Megan said Jonathan
would spend about an hour on weeknights with the boys at his
parents' house and would stay overnight there on
weekends. Megan discussed the likelihood she would marry
Jonathan in 2020. She explained that she loved Jonathan's
sons, but "was not ready to take on raising children in
her home at this time."
Pottebaum observed Lisa and Robert have a more
"traditional" family arrangement and together
handle all household and parenting duties for their blended
noteworthy than Jonathan's conduct though was that of his
mother. Dr. Pottebaum believed the "major point of
contention appears to be the difficulty [J.A.T.] has
experienced with his paternal grandmother. . . .
[J.A.T.'s] perceptions have been verified by [J.P.T.]
and, to some degree, by Jon as well." J.A.T. reported
his grandmother belittled him and spoiled or
"babied" J.P.T. She excluded J.A.T. from family
activities. And the boys recalled her making comments about
J.A.T. not being "a blood family member." J.P.T.
said his father would not stand up to their grandmother. Dr.
Pottebaum recommended J.A.T. live mainly with Lisa in
Atlantic, as he had been doing under the temporary orders.
Pottebaum also opined the brothers would benefit from growing
up in the same household. The boys both professed a
preference for living together. For J.A.T. specifically, Dr.
Pottebaum stated, "Now that [J.A.T.] has moved to
Atlantic, a move back to Bedford against his volition would
be poorly advised." That meant, she concluded, J.P.T.
should live with J.A.T. at Lisa's house in Atlantic with
ample visitation time for Jonathan.
trial court considered Dr. Pottebaum's evaluation but
chose to go another way. The court modified the decree to
split custody: it placed J.A.T. in Lisa's physical care
and J.P.T. in Jonathan's care. The court also ordered a
visitation schedule so that the boys spend ...