Justia Family Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Iowa Supreme Court
State of Iowa v. Cole
In Iowa in 2021, a mother of six, Paula Cole, left her five oldest children, ranging in age from 12 to five, asleep at home while she left to go to Walmart for groceries, taking her youngest, an infant, with her. While she was gone, a disagreement arose between two of the children, leading one to leave their apartment building. A neighbor, with whom the family had an open-door policy, helped the children and eventually called 911 due to the disagreement and the child leaving the building. Upon return, Cole was charged with child endangerment. She was convicted and appealed the decision. The court of appeals affirmed the conviction, but Cole sought further review from the Supreme Court of Iowa.The Supreme Court of Iowa reversed the conviction, holding that Cole did not create a risk that violated section 726.6(1)(a), which defines child endangerment as knowingly acting in a manner that creates a substantial risk to a child's physical, mental, or emotional health or safety. The court concluded that while leaving her children home alone could potentially pose risks, these were not risks created by Cole's decision to go shopping, but rather, they were ordinary risks of everyday life. The court also noted that no evidence suggested the home was unsafe, the older children could help care for the younger ones, and a neighbor was available to assist. The court stressed that not all risks children encounter are created by their parents or caregivers, and life inherently poses risks. Additionally, the court stated that a parent does not create a risk if the risk is part of the background risk of ordinary life. View "State of Iowa v. Cole" on Justia Law
In re Marriage of Frazier
In the Supreme Court of Iowa, the case involved a dispute between divorced parents who held joint legal custody of their children. The parents disagreed on whether their children should receive the COVID-19 vaccine. The mother filed an application for vaccination determination after unsuccessful mediation, seeking the district court's authorization to vaccinate the children. The district court dismissed the case, concluding it lacked the authority to act. The court of appeals reversed the decision, instructing the district court to hear the mother's application on the merits.Upon review, the Supreme Court of Iowa vacated the decision of the court of appeals and affirmed the district court's dismissal of the case. The Supreme Court held that the language of Iowa Code section 598.1(3) provides parents with equal participation in decisions affecting their children's medical care. The court found that the mother's application for vaccination determination attempted to circumvent the dissolution decree that gave the parents joint legal custody. Without a request for a modification of the custody agreement, the district court did not have the authority to resolve the parents' dispute. Therefore, the court concluded that the district court did not have the authority to resolve the parties' conflict over vaccinating their children against COVID-19. View "In re Marriage of Frazier" on Justia Law
In re Guardianship of J.W.
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the juvenile court dismissing an attorney's pro se petition to establish an involuntary guardianship of J.W., holding that the juvenile court did not abuse its discretion under the unique circumstances of this case.J.W. was the nine-year-old daughter of Mother, Attorney's former client. Attorney had represented Mother in prior custody disputes involving the child over which he sought to be named the guardian. The juvenile court dismissed the petition on the grounds that Attorney violated his duties to Mother as a former client under the Iowa Rules of Professional Conduct. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that the juvenile court erred in order dismissal as a remedy for any purported ethical violations. The Supreme Court vacated the decision of the court of appeals and affirmed the juvenile court's judgment, holding that dismissal was not clearly untenable. View "In re Guardianship of J.W." on Justia Law
In re Sokol
The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals modifying a dissolution decree to award a payee spouse seven years of transitional spousal support, holding that, under the circumstances, the court of appeals erred in modifying the decree to award transitional spousal support.Rachael and David Sokol married in 2002 and had two children. In 2019, Rachael petitioned for dissolution of the marriage. As to spousal support, the district court ordered Rachael to pay David $3,000 per month in rehabilitative spousal support for four years. After the district court entered its decree David appealed, arguing, as relevant to this appeal, that the length of the marriage warranted traditional, rather than rehabilitative, spousal support. As to spousal support, the court of appeals modified David's award from rehabilitative support at $3,000 per month for four years to transitional support at $5,000 per month for seven years. The Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals' modification of the district court's spousal award and reinstated the original award, holding that the modification of the decree was inconsistent with caselaw regarding both the category and duration of spousal support. View "In re Sokol" on Justia Law
In re the Marriage of Mills
The Supreme Court held that a spouse’s permanent disability suffered during the parties’ marriage may be considered when determining a traditional spousal support award, even if the length of the parties’ marriage does not quite meet the typical durational threshold.Jason and Erinn Mills married in 2006. Later that year, Erinn was injured while giving birth to the parties' only child, leading to her becoming permanently disabled. Jason filed for divorce in 2019. At issue on appeal was whether the fact that one spouse acquires a permanent disability during the marriage can support an award of spousal support when the length of the marriage would not otherwise support a traditional support award. The Supreme Court held (1) a court may appropriately consider a spouse's permanent disability acquired during the parties' marriage as a factor when determining a child support award; and (2) Erinn should be awarded traditional spousal support of $400 per month, but the amount should not increase upon the termination of Jason's child support obligation. View "In re the Marriage of Mills" on Justia Law
Lennette v. State of Iowa
A father going through a contentious divorce was accused by his young daughter of sexual abuse. A Department of Human Services social worker observed the forensic interview, believed it was credible, obtained additional information primarily from the mother, and obtained an ex parte court order requiring the father to leave the family home. An ensuing adversary proceeding determined that the allegation was unfounded and that the mother had “wanted [the father] out of the house.” The DHS finding was set aside and, eventually, the father obtained physical care of the children. In the father's subsequent suit, the district court granted the defendants summary judgment.The Iowa Supreme Court affirmed. The claim of intentional interference with the parent-child relationship fails because that claim applies to extralegal actions— such as absconding with a child—not to judicially-approved acts. The claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress fails because the conduct here did not reach the level of an “outrage” necessary to sustain such a claim. The unreasonable search and seizure claim cannot succeed because there was no showing that the DHS social worker falsified the affidavit she submitted to the court or that the removal order would not have been granted without her questioned statements. The substantive due process claim fails because DHS’s conduct does not “shock the conscience.” A procedural due process claim cannot prevail because the father was provided with adequate process, which ultimately cleared his name. View "Lennette v. State of Iowa" on Justia Law
In re K.D.
The Supreme Court reversed the order of the juvenile court declining to remove the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) as the guardian of certain children, holding that DHS acted unreasonably in failing to send relative notices as to the removal of the children and in failing to serve the children's best interests.The children at issue lived in their stepgrandmother's care for approximately eighteen months after they were adjudicated as children in need of assistance. The parental rights of the children's parents was subsequently terminated by the juvenile court. Later, acting as the children's guardian, DHS entered the children's home on the pretext of a visit and abruptly removed the children from their stepgrandmother's care to place them in foster care with strangers. The children's guardian ad litem filed motions for the immediate return of the children to their step grandmother, for a hearing on modification of placement, and to remove DHS as guardian. The juvenile court declined to remove DHS as the guardian. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the DHS acted unreasonably by making the sudden change to the children's placement. View "In re K.D." on Justia Law
In re Marriage of Hutchinson
The Supreme Court affirmed in part and vacated in part the judgment of the court of appeals in this dissolution of marriage proceeding, holding that, contrary to the judgment of the lower court, Husband's concealment of a certain pension was intrinsic fraud.Throughout negotiation within the proceedings below, Husband failed to disclose his GE retirement pension. After Wife discovered the omission five years later she brought this action seeking to modify the dissolution decree by awarding her part of the pension, alleging extrinsic fraud. In response, Husband argued that the alleged fraud was intrinsic and that reasonable diligence on Wife's part would have led to the discovery of his pension within one year after entry of the order. The district court entered judgment for Wife. The court of appeals reversed in part, holding that the district court properly found the fraud was extrinsic but erred in determining that Wife would not have found the pension with reasonable diligence. The Supreme Court vacated in part, holding (1) Husband's concealment of the GE pension was intrinsic fraud; and (2) Wife would have discovered the pension within one year with reasonable diligence. View "In re Marriage of Hutchinson" on Justia Law
In re Z.K.
The Supreme Court affirmed the ruling of the juvenile court that the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) did not apply to the termination of parental rights proceedings below, holding that the juvenile court did not err in determining that Z.K. was not an "Indian child" under ICWA.After holding a hearing on the applicability of ICWA the juvenile court concluded that ICWA remained inapplicable to Z.K. Turning to the merits, the juvenile court found that the State's reasonable efforts to avoid the out-of-home placement had been unsuccessful and proceeded to terminate the parents' parental rights to Z.K. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the juvenile court properly determined that Z.K. did not meet the definition of "Indian child" under the applicable ICWA statutes. View "In re Z.K." on Justia Law
In re Marriage of Pazhoor
The Supreme Court further modified a hybrid traditional and rehabilitative alimony award that the court of appeals modified in this case, holding that this Court hereby adopts transitional alimony as another tool to do equity in calculating spousal support.In this divorce action, the district court entered a decree dissolving the parties' seventeen-year marriage, ordering shared custody and physical care of the children, and diving the marital property. On appeal, the court of appeals increased the spousal support award and recalculated Husband child support obligation. On appeal, Husband argued that the increase in the spousal support award and duration was excessive and unnecessary. The Supreme Court affirmed the decision as modified, holding that the alimony is modified as to the amount and duration and that this modification required a recalculation of child support. View "In re Marriage of Pazhoor" on Justia Law