Painter v. Bannister
258 Iowa 1390, 140 N.W. 152 (1966)

  • Harold was married and had two children. His wife and one child were killed in a car accident. Harold asked his wife’s parents (Dwight and Margaret) to care for the surviving child (Mark) while he got his life back together.
  • Dwight and Margaret took Mark to their farm where they raised him for a year.
    • Dwight and Margaret lived a very different lifestyle in rural Iowa than Harold did. They felt that they provided a far more stable home life than Harold could.
      • Dwight and Margaret never approved of their daughter’s marriage to Harold in the first place.
  • Harold got back on his feet and remarried. He asked Dwight and Margaret to return Mark, but they refused. He sued for custody.
  • The Trial Court awarded custody to Harold. Dwight and Margaret appealed.
    • Harold argued that he had a fundamental right to raise his own child. Because of that, there must be clear and convincing evidence that the natural parents are unfit before the court moves to a best interests test.
  • The Iowa Supreme Court reversed and gave custody to Dwight and Margaret.
    • The Iowa Supreme Court found that Mark, Dwight and Margaret were all generally fit to be parents, even though they had very different lifestyles.
    • The Court applied a best interests test and found that Dwight and Margaret’s “stable, dependable, conventional, middleclass, Midwest background” provided a more solid background than Mark’s “Bohemian approach to finances and life in general.”
      • Mark was a freelance writer and photographer. And, since this was the 1960s, it sounds like was most likely a ‘long-haired hippy’.
        • The Court also noted that he was either “an atheist or a Buddhist, and ‘politically liberal’.”
    • While the Court found that Mark’s home would be “unconventional, arty, Bohemian, and probably intellectually stimulating,” they found that “security and stability in the home are more important than intellectual stimulation in the proper development of a child.”
    • The Court never addressed Harold’s argument that there must be clear and convincing evidence to take a child away from a parent.
  • This was a bad decision by the Iowa Court! Courts cannot go straight to a best interests test to determine custody when it is a parent vs. a non-parent, because there is a parental presumption that a parent has a fundamental right to raise their own child. It is only when the parental presumption is rebutted with clear and convincing evidence can the courts consider best interests.
    • When it is parent vs. parent, you can go straight to a best interests test.
  • Btw, a few years later, Mark expressed a desire to live with his father, and the grandparents did not oppose the move.