Helton v. Crawley, 47495

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa
Citation241 Iowa 296,41 N.W.2d 60
Docket NumberNo. 47495,47495
PartiesHELTON et al. v. CRAWLEY.
Decision Date07 February 1950

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41 N.W.2d 60
241 Iowa 296
HELTON et al.
No. 47495.
Supreme Court of Iowa.
Feb. 7, 1950.

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Johnson & Johnson, of Knoxville, for appellants.

Watson & Herrick, of Indianola, for appellee.

BLISS, Chief Justice.

We will refer to the father as plaintiff. He and defendant, both lifetime residents of Missouri, were married in that state in February, 1940. He was in the United States Navy when married, and at the time of the trial had been a member of the Navy continuously for twelve years. Though he had been away from Missouri during much of that time--having been in Greenland from October, 1946, to March, 1948--his legal residence[241 Iowa 299] had always been in that state. While he was away his wife

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and children lived in her home town, Cainesville, Missouri.

Defendant sued for divorce and custody of the children in the Circuit Court of Harrison County, at Bethany, Missouri. The husband filed answer, and a cross-bill asking for divorce and the custody of the children. Trial was had on the merits and the petition of the wife was dismissed, and on the cross-bill the husband was granted a decree of divorce on May 3, 1948. The court took the matter of the custody of the children under advisement, leaving their temporary custody with their maternal grandmother.

On June 21, 1948, the court decreed that it would be for the best interests of the children that their permanent custody, care, and control be granted to the father from that day forward until each child should attain the age of twenty-one years, with the provision that they should be kept and cared for by him in a suitable private home where at all times they should have the care of an active, capable, and proper female person of good habits and character. The court designated Mr. and Mrs. Clarence Bishop, of Trenton, Missouri, as such suitable persons.

The decree also provided that the children should not be taken from Missouri without express permission of the court; that the mother should at all times be kept informed as to their location, and have the right to visit them at all reasonable times, and should be permitted once each year for any two-week period between June 1st and August 20th to have the custody of the children at any suitable place, or with her parents, and, that during each year in each of six specified months, including October, the mother might have the children from 10 A.M., Saturday until 6 P.M. of the following day, providing she did not take them out of the state of Missouri, and more than fifty miles distant from where they were living.

Defendant married Cliff Crawley and they established a good home a few miles west of Pleasantville, in Warren County, Iowa. On October 29, 1948, as provided in the decree, the mother received the children from the Bishops, who had brought them into Trenton for her. She took them out of Missouri and to her Iowa home, without the knowledge or consent of the Missouri court, or the plaintiff. She did not return the children to the [241 Iowa 300] Bishops, but on November 1, 1948, she telephoned to the Welfare Office at Trenton, that she did not intend to take the children back to that place.

On November 18, 1948, the petition for the writ of habeas corpus was presented to the Honorable S. E. Prall, a Judge of the 5th Judicial District of Iowa, alleging in substance the matters above set out, and the illegal restraint of the children, and praying that the writ should direct the officer serving it to bring the children and the defendant before the court for a hearing forthwith, for the reason that if defendant was simply given notice of a hearing at a later date, she would remove the children from their then location and secrete herself and them. He also prayed that upon the hearing the custody of the children be awarded to him. A copy of the Missouri divorce decree was attached to the petition.

Defendant, on November 19, 1948, filed answer admitting her present control and custody of the children at her home to which they came willingly, and denying any restraint of their liberty, or any intention to remove the children to any secret place. Other allegations were in substance that she took the children from the place where they were kept because it was not a fit and proper place for them, and that she, in good faith and in order to protect them and further their welfare and to give them a good home and a mother's love, brought them to her home in Iowa; that since the rendition of the divorce decree conditions had changed and the welfare of the children demanded that the custody granted by said decree be changed; that the father to whom the custody of the children was therein given, is not now a fit person to have their custody, and the place where he was keeping them, has, since said decree, become an unfit place for them, and the Bishops have since become unfit persons to care for said children; that she (defendant), since the rendition of said decree has

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established a good home and is well able to take care of, and give a mother's love, to the children, who wish to remain with her and were dissatisfied with the place from which they were taken; that the father is away much of the time and cannot give personal care and attention to the children.

It was also alleged in the answer that 'under the laws of the State of Missouri, a decree awarding the custody of children [241 Iowa 301] is not a final decree, and that the same may be changed, reversed, or amended at any time by the court entering the decree, if the welfare of the children requires it. * * * that said Court entering the decree would have power to grant custody to this defendant, mother of said children, and would have power to change said judgment granting her custody, and would have the power to change said decree changing the times and terms under which this defendant could have said children, and would have the power to permit said children to be removed from the State of Missouri and taken to the State of Iowa.' Defendant prayed that the custody of the children be granted to her, and that the petition of plaintiff be dismissed.

Plaintiff moved to strike much of the answer for the reason that there was 'no allegation that plaintiffs (children) are domiciled in Iowa as a basis for the court's assuming jurisdiction for the purpose of making a determination as to whether there has been a change in circumstances since the decree in Missouri, and as to whether a change in custody from that ordered in Missouri should be made, and it appearing positively from the pleadings the domicile of the plaintiffs is in the State of Missouri.'

After oral arguments on the motion it was overruled by the court for reasons stated at some length. The substance of which were expressed thus: 'It would seem that the full faith-and credit clause of the Federal Constitution requires courts in all states of the United States to recognize the decrees of courts of the state where granted when that decree has become a finality. * * * However, in divorce cases where the custody of children is concerned, * * * I think in most states, at least in this state, they are subject to change, if the conditions justify the change. So that under the Iowa law, and under the Missouri law the decision of the Missouri court as to the facts and circumstances at the time the decree was entered is a finality. However, where there is a change of circumstances which ought to justify the change by the court in Missouri, it would seem from the cases, that the court where the case is being tried would have the right to make such changes as would appear to be proper. * * * In other words, (speaking of the ruling on the motion only), that is the [241 Iowa 302] question the Court is deciding here, not on the evidence as to whether there should be a change made in the decree, but whether this court has a right to consider the question. * * * The Court holds that it does have jurisdiction of the matter to determine it and to hold a hearing on the questions raised by the pleadings.' We agree with the ruling of the court. It was based on sound principles and preponderant precedent.

The trial was then postponed to hear testimony on the factual issue of whether there had been a material change, since the Missouri decree, in the conditions and circumstances bearing upon the best interests and welfare of the children. On November 26, 1948, plaintiff filed a reply to defendant's answer, in which he admitted the ages of the children, as alleged, and that defendant was their mother; denied the other fact allegations, and realleged the questions of law raised in the motion, and that the children were domiciled in the state of Missouri, and were forcibly brought therefrom into Iowa where they have neither residence nor domicile; that the state of Missouri has exclusive jurisdiction to determine the custody of the children, and the court of the forum 'has no jurisdiction to determine the matter of custody other than for the purpose of honoring the Missouri decree and giving custody to Elza Lee Helton.' The plaintiff so prayed in the reply.

When the trial was begun on December 2, 1948, before the District Court of Warren

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County, Iowa, the following proceedings were had: 'Defendant orally admitted that the Missouri court was one of competent jurisdiction to render and enter the divorce decree, copy of which was admitted in evidence without objection, and that the custody of the children was in issue in said Missouri proceeding.

Following these admissions plaintiff then orally moved that, because thereof, the court had no alternative than to enter a decree in favor of the plaintiff awarding the custody of the children to him, in view of the fact that the court of the forum was bound under Article IV, section 1 of the Constitution of the United States to give full faith and credit to the Missouri decree. The court overruled the motion...

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