On 2/17/20, the Iowa Court of Appeals, in In re Marriage of Grillo (No. 20-0564), affirmed (agreed with) a district court divorce decree which ordered “split custody” of five kids, placing the three youngest kids with mom, and the two eldest kids with dad. “Split custody” is exceedingly rare.
In Grillo, the courts found split custody justified because the father had, among other things, alienated the two older kids from their mother, and he invited the now-adult kids (three of them; eight kids in total) to testify against and falsely report about their mother. The courts were concerned that by placing the older two children with the younger three children, the older two children could taint the younger three children’s relationship with their mother. The court concluded it really had no choice but to separate the children.
Of particular concern with the Court’s opinion is the message it sends: if you alienate your children ENOUGH from the other parent, you could win custody because of all the damage you caused. This is a bad message to send.
Second, to criticize a party for calling an adult child as his or her witness potentially chills a party’s advocacy and makes them afraid to put on truthful evidence. Innocent parents seeking to establish the other parent’s bad behavior will have to choose between truthful testimony, on one hand, and being criticized for calling the witness at all, on the other hand.
In fairness to the Court’s opinion, you (we) never get the “full story” merely by reading an appellate decision. The record on appeal is often very thick and highly complex, and sometimes, only certain issues are raised by the parties or argued on appeal. Some thoughtful consideration should be given to this opinion, however, it is not determinative of the results in any other case. For a full, real analysis in your own particular case, consult a trusted family law lawyer.
To read the opinion, click here: https://www.iowacourts.gov/courtcases/11450/embed/CourtAppealsOpinion
Jessica Zupp is an attorney in Denison, Iowa where she owns Zupp and Zupp Law Firm, P.C. with her twin sister, Jennifer. She specializes in Criminal Defense and Divorce and Family Law.