IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF LAURA ELIZABETH O'TOOLE AND SEAN DAVID O'TOOLE Upon the Petition of LAURA ELIZABETH O'TOOLE, Petitioner-Appellee, And Concerning SEAN DAVID O'TOOLE, Respondent-Appellant.
from the Iowa District Court for Scott County, Thomas G.
O'Toole appeals several provisions of the decree
dissolving his marriage to Laura O'Toole.
L. Clausen and Ryan M. Beckenbaugh of H.J. Dane Law Office,
Davenport, for appellant.
Jennifer M. Triner Olsen of Olsen Law Firm, Davenport, for
Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Tabor and Mullins, JJ.
VAITHESWARAN, PRESIDING JUDGE.
and Laura OToole married in 2010 and divorced in 2018. They
have one child, born in 2016. The district court granted
Laura physical care of the child, subject to visitation with
Sean. On appeal, Sean contends the district court acted
inequitably in failing to (1) grant the parents joint
physical care of the child and (2) provide more expansive
Joint Physical Care
consideration of joint physical care . . . must . . . be
based on Iowa's traditional and statutorily required
child custody standard-the best interest of the child."
In re Marriage of Hansen, 733 N.W.2d 683, 695 (Iowa
2007) (citing Iowa Code § 598.41 (5)(a) (2017)). A list
of nonexclusive factors for determining a child's best
interests is set forth in Iowa Code section 598.41(3).
Id. at 696. Certain key factors in deciding whether
to order joint physical care are (1) "stability and
continuity of caregiving," (2) "the ability of
spouses to communicate and show mutual respect," (3)
"the degree of conflict between parents," and (4)
"the degree to which the parents are in general
agreement about their approach to daily matters."
Id. at 696-99. Other case-specific factors also may
bear on the decision. Id. at 699-700.
district court applied each of the enumerated factors before
opting against a joint physical care arrangement. The court
[J]oint physical custody is not appropriate in this case in
light of Laura's role as the primary caregiver during the
marriage, the lack of open and complete communication, the
parties' different approach to daily matters, and
Laura's greater dedication to making decisions that
benefit [the child]. . . . [T]he Court believes that both
parties are good parents who truly love [the child]. However,
Laura has consistently put [the child] at the forefront of
her decision-making and has dedicated herself to being an
excellent mother with [the child] as her first priority.
While Sean believes that he has acted in the same manner, the
evidence does not support this as being true. As noted above,
Sean placed his own interests in fun activities such as going
out after work, socializing, golfing, and hunting ahead of
spending time with [the child]. Sean could do this because he
knew that Laura would be home caring for [the child]. After
Laura filed for divorce, Sean's amount of time tending to
[the child's] needs did increase, which is to Sean's
credit. However, Sean continued his poor decision-making by
making multiple bad decisions concerning finances and not
considering the impact of those decisions, both financially
and morally, upon [the child]. In this case, Laura has been
the primary custodian and has shown a dedication to placing
[the child's] interests at the forefront. The Court finds
that Laura is the proper parent to have primary physical care
of [the child].
de novo review of the record, we find support for the
district court's determination.
testified she "was the caretaker" of the child
during her nine weeks of maternity leave. After she returned
to work, she continued her role as primary caretaker.
Although Sean was "there," she stated he was
"[n]ot necessarily actively participating" in the
child's care. After Laura filed her dissolution petition,
Sean began helping with the child's feedings, dinner
preparation, and bed and bath time. But, in Laura's
words, his involvement was "hit and miss." She
testified, "He drank and would come home intoxicated,
you know, a couple times a week maybe." Although he
cared for the child on his weekends, she stated he had no
compunction about staying out late on other occasions because
she was at home caring for the child.
disputed Laura's characterization of his involvement with
the child. Although he acknowledged Laura saw the child and
was "more present" than him, he testified,
"[F]or the most part, [he] was active." He
described a "very flexible" work schedule and noted
that travel obligations took him no more than two to two-
and-a-half hours away from home. He characterized Laura as
"controlling" and ...