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Batterman v. Biggs

Court of Appeals of Iowa

September 11, 2019

JASON BATTERMAN, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
AMANDA BIGGS, Defendant-Appellee.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Pottawattamie County, Gregory W. Steensland, Judge.

         Jason Batterman appeals the district court's refusal to modify the physical-care placement of his child. AFFIRMED.

          Sarah M. Hart, Omaha, Nebraska, for appellant.

          Sara E. Benson, Council Bluffs, and William C. Bracker, Council Bluffs, for appellee.

          Considered by Tabor, P.J., and Mullins and May, JJ.

          MAY, Judge.

         This case is about B.B., who was born in 2009. Jason Batterman and Amanda Biggs are B.B.'s parents. They were never married. They split up shortly after B.B. was born. In 2010, the district court entered a paternity decree granting joint legal custody, awarding physical care to Amanda, and providing visitation for Jason.

         In 2017, Jason got married. That same year, Jason filed the present modification action. Jason asked the district court to switch physical care from Amanda to him. The district court denied Jason's request. The court also awarded Amanda $1000 in attorney fees. Jason appeals.

         Our review is de novo. Iowa R. App. 6.907. However, we "afford deference to the district court for institutional and pragmatic reasons." Hensch v. Mysak, 902 N.W.2d 822, 824 (Iowa Ct. App. 2017).

         Jason argues the district court erred in declining to switch physical care. "A party seeking modification of the legal or physical custodial provisions of a dissolution decree must meet a high standard." In re Marriage of Sawyer, No. 09-0558, 2009 WL 2514176, at *4 (Iowa Ct. App. Aug. 19, 2009).

To change a custodial provision of a dissolution decree, the applying party must establish by a preponderance of evidence that conditions since the decree was entered have so materially and substantially changed that the child[]'s best interests make it expedient to make the requested change. The changed circumstances must not have been contemplated by the court when the decree was entered, and they must be more or less permanent, not temporary. They must relate to the welfare of the child[]. A parent seeking to take custody from the other must prove an ability to minister more effectively to the child[]'s well being. The heavy burden upon a party seeking to modify custody stems from the principle that once custody of child[] has been fixed it should be disturbed only for the most cogent reasons.

Id. (quoting In re Marriage of Frederici, 338 N.W.2d 156, 158 (Iowa 1983)).

         Like the district court, we doubt Jason has proven a significant, continuing change in circumstances that negatively impacts the welfare of the child. Assuming he has, however, Jason must also demonstrate his superior ability to care for B.B. See In re Marriage of Whalen, 569 N.W.2d 626, 628 (Iowa Ct. App. 1997).

         To be sure, both parents have their deficiencies. We note Amanda has moved several times, forcing B.B. to change schools repeatedly. Our concerns regarding this are somewhat alieved by Amanda's assurance, "I'm not going to move." The district court described Amanda as "testif[ying] rather convincingly" to the stability of her current relationship. We defer to the district court on this issue and anticipate increased stability in Amanda's future. See In re Marriage ...


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