In re Marriage of Weidner
338 N.W.2d 351 (1983)

  • Marvin and Betsy were married and had two kids. Then they separated.
    • During the separation, the children lived with Betsy, but Marvin had them almost half the time, maintained daily contact, and provided support.
    • Based on testimony, Marvin and Betsy did not get along with each other after the separation.
  • 16 months later, the Trial Court awarded a final divorce, and gave Betsy sole physical custody of the children. Marvin appealed.
    • The Trial Court found that while both Marvin and Betsy were fit and suitable to act as a custodial parent, they had not demonstrated that they were able to communicate and give priority to the welfare of the children by reaching shared decisions in the best interests of the children.
      • Basically, they were fighting a lot and using the children as pawns against each other.
    • Sole custody means that the children shall reside with and be under the supervision of one parent, subject to the power of the court to order visitation.
    • Conversely, joint custody means that each parent shall have significant periods of physical custody in such a way to assure a child of frequent and continuing contact with both parents.
  • The Iowa Supreme Court affirmed the sole custody decree.
    • The Iowa Supreme Court found that under Iowa law (§598.21), custody determinations are to be made in the best interests of the child, but there is a preference for joint custody.
      • The Court noted that §598.21 lists a number of factors that courts should use to determine best interests, but they aren’t hard and fast rules, just guidelines. “The quality of the total family custodial setting rather than a given quantity of the listed factors should be determinative on the issue of joint custody.”
    • In this case, the Court found that since Marvin and Betsy fought whenever they were together, it was in the best interest of the children to keep the parents from interacting. Joint custody only works if the parents are willing to try to make it work, and that wasn’t the case here.