Sunday, May 28, 2006
Case Law Development: Change in Custody - Impact of Child's Preference, Mental Health Professional Recommendations & Parental Animosity
The Iowa Court of Appeals affirmed a change in primary custody of a teenaged girl in a case that would make an excellent vehicle for class discussions regarding the relevant weight to be given to various custody factors.
On Dad's side:
- 16-year-old daughter strongly expresses desire to live with dad
- Mom's husband kicked daughter out of the house, continually criticizes Father to daughter and, in general, Mom and Stepdad "have made it very difficult for [Daughter] to maintain a guilt-free relationship with her father.
- Mom has been cited for contempt in the past for interfering with Father's visitation
- Dad doesn't work due to disability (the legitimacy of which has been twice litigated by Mom and decided in his favor in both actions) and will be available to daughter
- Dad seems the more "friendly parent"
- Appellate court should give deference to trial court's judgment which concluded that while Father "was no Ward Cleaver" he was "unwilling to evaporate from his children's life and that [Mother and Stepfather] are without legal justification to deny [Father] his rights as the children's parent. "
On Mom's side:
- Daughter's family counselor and her guardian ad litem both recommend that custody remain with Mom, with continued counseling and no contact between step-father and father
- Mom has been primary care provider for over thirteen years and, with step-dad, has provided nearly all financial support for Daughter
- Dad admits to using Marijuanna and has a more permissive parenting style than the authoritative style of Mom and step dad
- Mom and step-dad have other younger children and transfer of custody will separate daughter from these step-siblings
- The dissent concludes "In a difficult and emotionally charged custody case such as this, we are better informed by the critical judgment of the professionals than we are by the preferences of a troubled adolescent or the highly partisan and self-serving testimony of the parents."
In re Rohlfsen, 2006 Iowa App. LEXIS 472 (May 24, 2006)
Opinion on the web (last visited May26, 2006 bgf)