Whitfield v. Clayton, 21-1421

CourtCourt of Appeals of Iowa
Writing for the CourtCARR, Senior Judge.
PartiesAUNDRE REDMOND WHITFIELD, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. CHELSEA R. CLAYTON, Defendant-Appellant.
Docket Number21-1421
Decision Date17 November 2022

AUNDRE REDMOND WHITFIELD, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.

CHELSEA R. CLAYTON, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 21-1421

Court of Appeals of Iowa

November 17, 2022


Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Webster County, Jennifer A. Miller, Judge.

Chelsea Clayton appeals the physical care determination for her children with Aundre Whitfield. AFFIRMED.

Chelsea Clayton, Ankeny, self-represented appellant.

Dani L. Eisentrager, Eagle Grove, for appellee.

Considered by Schumacher, P.J., Chicchelly, J., and Carr, S.J. [*]

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CARR, Senior Judge.

Aundre Whitfield and Chelsea Clatyon are the never-married parents of two children, born in 2016 and 2018. Additionally, Chelsea is the mother of T.C., born in 2011. Aundre and his fiance also have a child together, born a few days before trial. The parties began living together in Fort Dodge in 2011, shortly after T.C. was born. The parties briefly separated and reconciled around the time their older child was born. The parties ultimately separated in 2018 shortly after their younger child was born.

Aundre filed the petition to establish custody, visitation, and support in July 2020. At the time of trial, Aundre lives in the same home in Fort Dodge that the parties lived in during their relationship. He works overnights, about 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m., seven out of every fourteen days. He testified he sleeps during downtime at his job and he occasionally naps during the day. Chelsea moved to Ankeny in July 2021. She works more traditional hours, Monday through Friday from about 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. After a trial in August 2021, the district court granted joint legal custody, placed physical care with Aundre, ordered visitation with Chelsea on every other weekend, and established Chelsea's child support obligation. The court provided the following explanation for its physical care determination:

Aundre's current employment allows him to be home with the children during the day and he does not need to utilize daycare. Aundre and the children also have a large family support system in Fort Dodge which includes not only Aundre's family but Chelsea's family as well, all of whom can assist with care of the children if necessary. The children have lived in their home in Ft. Dodge their entire lives, [the older child] has started to attend school in Ft Dodge, and the children have medical providers established in Ft. Dodge. Remaining in Ft. Dodge affords the least amount of disruption in their
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lives and provides them with an environment of familiarity and frequent contact with family member[s] in addition to maximum time with the custodial parent.

Chelsea appeals the decision to place physical care with Aundre.

We review the district court's physical care determination de novo. In re Marriage of Hynick, 727 N.W.2d 575, 577 (Iowa 2007). We give weight to the court's findings of fact, especially with regard to the credibility of witnesses, but we are not bound by them. Id.; Iowa R. App. P. 6.904(3)(g).

"The objective of a physical care determination is to place the children in the environment most likely to bring them to health, both physically and mentally, and to social maturity." In re Marriage of Hansen, 733 N.W.2d 683, 695 (Iowa 2007). In making this determination, our controlling consideration is the best interests of the children. In re Marriage of Hoffman, 867 N.W.2d 26, 32 (Iowa 2015). Iowa courts "have generally emphasized that the best interest of children is promoted by stability and continuity." Hansen, 733 N.W.2d at 691.

Chelsea argues certain factors make her the more suitable parent to provide physical care.[1] First, Chelsea asserts she has historically been the children's primary caretaker, especially when the children primarily lived with her between November 2018, when the parties separated, and August 2020, when the court entered a temporary order for joint physical care. "[C]ourts have typically afforded weight to the parent who has acted as the child's primary caretaker in the past."

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Ruden v. Peach, 904 N.W.2d 410, 414-15 (Iowa Ct. App. 2017). However, the record does not show Chelsea assumed an overwhelming share of the parenting duties. Both parents worked for much of the children's lives, requiring them to rely on others for childcare at times. While Aundre often worked two full-time jobs, he was an active caretaker when not at work. And Aundre had equal parenting time for the year prior to trial under the temporary order for joint...

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