Monthly Archives: May 2012

Three Former Iowa Supreme Court Justices Honored by Kennedy Presidential Library

Former Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Marsha Ternus and former Justices David Baker and Michael Streit were awarded the 2012 John F. Kennedy Profiles in Courage award in Boston on Monday, May 7th.  The Justices lost their seats on the court in a 2010 retention vote, that in any other political climate would have been considered routine.  However, the Court’s unanimous decision in 2009′s Varnum v. Brien  to allow same-sex marriage in Iowa proved to be unpopular with Iowa voters.

After the decision, special interest groups, such as The Iowa Family Leader , flooded the state with television ads and other negative publicity claiming the justices were “out of touch” and “activists” because of their decision in Varnum.  As a result, Chief Justice Ternus, Justice David Baker, and Justice Michael Streit were all removed from the Iowa Supreme Court.

Thanks to these justices and the others they served with, who remain on the bench, same-sex marriage remains legal in the state of Iowa.


Reese Witherspoon’s Mother Files Petition to Annul Alleged Bigamous Marriage of her Husband

On May 8th, Actress Reese Witherspoon’s mother, Mary Elizabeth Witherspoon, filed a petition for annulment in a Nashville, TN Court.  According to the Washington Post , Witherspoon alleges that she is still married to her husband, John Witherspoon, and that he has married another woman, Tricianne Taylor, who may be taking advantage of him.

Betty, as Mary Elizabeth is known, is also alleging that John has had quite a few personal problems such as alcoholism and some professional misfortune that has led him to be vulnerable to Ms. Taylor.  Betty also believes John may be experiencing dementia.  Ms. Taylor has had John sign a new will, and is attempting to take out bank loans under the name Tricianne Witherspoon.

When confronted by Betty about his January 2012 nuptials, John claims to not remember marrying Tricianne.  Although Betty and John have been separated since 1996, neither has filed for dissolution of their marriage, according to Betty.  Betty does not desire a divorce at this time.

She is, in addition to petitioning the court for an annulment of the marriage between John and Tricianne, asking the court to order Tricianne to return all assets and move out of residences owned by the family.  A hearing has been set for May 31st, 2012 in Davidson County Circuit Court in Tennessee.

Bigamy in Iowa

Iowa Code Section 726.1 lists Bigamy as a serious misdemeanor.  According to the statute, any person with a living husband or wife who marries another commits the crime of Bigamy.  There are several defenses to Bigamy however, including, if the first marriage was terminated or the person reasonably believes the first marriage was terminated, the person reasonably believes their first spouse is dead, or if for 3 years, there has been no evidence that their spouse is alive.


U.S. Census Bureau Studies Economic Well-Being of Children and Their Absent Fathers

Divorce and Its’ Effect on Children

Divorce, separation, and other family law problems can wreak havoc on the family unit. Just by virtue of the event taking place – the separation of a set of parents, the children of the relationship can be expected to go through moderate changes at the very least. Unfortunately, in many cases, children endure much worse than moderate changes. They not only experience emotional upheaval but more tangible changes in their lives such as a different living arrangement and different, usually less, parental interaction than when their parents were together. The result of these changes often means that there is a lower income to support the children, thus lowering the standard of living for children whose parents are divorced or living apart.

U.S. Census Bureau Study Focusing on Economic Well-Being of Children and Their Absent Fathers

Difficulty in Studying Absent Fathers

                In the early 1990’s, the U.S. Census Bureau released a study , that has since become widely-read, on the economic well-being of children who have experienced a divorce or separation of their parents.  As the paper describes, there are not many studies on this topic available because of the difficulty in acquiring data on absent fathers. One explanation for this difficulty is that many men, after they divorce or separate, if they are the non-custodial parent, change residences – much more often than women, or the custodial parent in the relationship, do.

Studying the Post-Separation Income of Fathers

This U.S. Census Bureau Study examined the post-separation income of fathers and the relative well-being of absent fathers and their children. The researchers interviewed the children and parents selected for a period of 32 months in four month intervals. Families from across the United States were studied, with children being restricted to those under the age of 15 and present in the household of one of their parents.

Changes in the Economic Well-Being of the Household after the Departure of the Father

The study found very troubling changes in the economic well-being of the children’s household after the departure of the father.  Directly after the disruption in the family, .statistics show that the income level drops by 37% and the percentage of households living in poverty doubles.

The study also shows differences between the families where they were able to track and follow up with fathers after they left the family versus families where they were unable to follow up with the father.  Children with fathers who were able to be tracked and re-interviewed lived at income levels that are 20 to 40% higher than those of children whose fathers are unable to be tracked.  Also, the percentage of children living in poverty is more than twice as high for fathers who can’t be tracked after the family disruption than fathers who can be.  This suggests that families with lower incomes before a divorce or separation are more likely to have an absent father after.

Also, as expected, fathers who are unable to be tracked are less likely to pay child support after they leave the family household. Even for fathers who do pay child support, the study shows that they are living farther above the poverty line and enjoying a more comfortable economic well-being than their children.

Would this Study Look the Same Today?

Of course, since this study has not been recreated, there is no way to know what the economic well-being of children of divorced or separated homes and their absent fathers look like.  Unfortunately, the percentage of children experiencing a family disruption such as a divorce or separation of their parents is higher now than in the early 1990s and is rising.  In 1990, 24% of all households with children were single parent households.  In 2008, the percentage increased to 29.5%.

With this many relationships ending in divorce or separation, it is of the utmost importance to consider the children of the relationship first when the family disruption occurs.


Orders for Spousal Support

Recently, the Iowa Court of Appeals entered a ruling in a case centered on Iowa Code Section 598.21A, Orders for Spousal Support. The statute lists the criteria courts shall consider when determining spousal support.

Criteria the Court Considers when Determining Spousal Support

The criteria include the length of the marriage, the age and physical/emotional health of both parties, and the distribution of property made in the divorce. The court will also consider the educational level of both parties, the earning capacity of the party seeking maintenance, and responsibilities for the children. The party seeking maintenance will also be examined as to the length of time it will take for them to become self-sufficient at a standard of living similar to what they enjoyed during their marriage.  There are other minor factors the court takes into consideration as well.

In Re the Marriage of Wattonville

In the case of In Re the Marriage of Wattonville, decided on April 25, 2012, the Iowa Court of Appeals affirmed and modified the ruling of the district court.  The district court’s determination of the amount of spousal support was upheld, however, the Court of Appeals extended the time the husband was required to pay the support.

The couple married in their twenties, had three children and enjoyed a very comfortable lifestyle due to the husband’s gainful employment at John Deere.  The wife allowed her cosmetologist license to expire and stayed home with their children.  Unfortunately, the wife was diagnosed with brain cancer which has affected her current ability to work.

Spousal Support Extended but not Increased

Originally, the district court awarded the wife with alimony to last 10 years after their divorce.  She appealed on this issue, arguing she should be awarded alimony for the rest of her life, or until she is eligible for the husband’s retirement accounts and his Social Security. She also argued the amount should be increased.  The Court notes the previously mentioned criteria in determining amount and length of support and determined that the wife will receive support until she remarries or cohabitates, either party dies, or the husband reaches retirement age.  They do not see it necessary to modify the amount of support she will receive.

Property Distribution

The Court also addresses the parties’ appeals on the issue of property distribution in their divorce.  As the Court notes, Iowa law does not require an equal division, but a fair and equitable division.  The Court determines that the wife must list the marital home for sale since the deadline for her remaining in the house has passed, that she is not entitled to more than 43% of the husband’s 401K that he began earning before the marriage, and that the district court’s ruling regarding the livestock in the couple’s lambing operation should not be disturbed.


Iowa Supreme Court Rules on Post-Secondary Education Subsidy

When a Parent will be Required to Pay for a Portion of their Child’s College Education

On April 27, 2012 the Iowa Supreme Court entered a ruling regarding the parental requirement to pay a portion of children’s post-secondary education as outlined in Iowa Code Section 598.21F(2011). The statute provides that a court may order a “post-secondary education subsidy” if good cause is shown. The court will consider the age of the child, the child’s financial resources, whether the child is self-sustaining, and the financial condition of each parent in determining whether there is good cause to require the parents to pay for any of the child’s college education.

How Much will a Parent be Required to Pay?

If good cause is found to exist, the court will base the cost of the child’s college education on the cost for an in-state university where the child would receive a four year undergraduate degree. The court will then consider how much the child should reasonably be expected to contribute taking scholarships, financial aid, loans, and the child’s ability to work into consideration. After all of these considerations, the statute provides that neither parent should be required to pay more than one third of the entire cost of the child’s college education.

When Doesn’t a Parent have to Pay?

The post-secondary education subsidy will NOT be required of a parent that has been repudiated by the child. This means that if the child has publicly disowned the parent or refused to acknowledge the parent, there will be no requirement for that parent to pay for any of the child’s college costs. Also, if the child receives the post-secondary education subsidy, they will be required to report their grades to their parents ten days within receiving them and to maintain a grade point average above the median range.

Recent Iowa Supreme Court Decision

In the case recently ruled upon by the Iowa Supreme Court, the mother and father separated when their only daughter was an infant. The mother remarried a man who had a high income and enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle. The father remarried as well, had three additional children and then divorced for a second time. He earned a fairly good income, however unlike the mother, he had a high amount of debt and a very small net worth.
In its decision, the Court found there was good cause for the post-secondary education requirement because the daughter was 19 years old, doing well in college, and she was working part-time and contributing financially to her own college education, but not able to support herself entirely on her own. The Court considered the financial outlook of the father and noted that the same amount of sacrifice required of a parent in the support of a minor child is NOT required in the payment of a post-secondary education subsidy. They find that the father does not lead an extravagant lifestyle, and while he does make a good income, he should not be required to pay as high of a subsidy as determined by the Court of Appeals.
The Court affirmed the finding of good cause in requiring the post-secondary education subsidy, however reduced the amount the father was required to pay significantly.