2014 Opinion No. 41
Appeal from the District Court of the Seventh Judicial District, State of Idaho, Bonneville County. Hon. Jon J. Shindurling, District Judge; Hon. Steven A. Gardner, Magistrate.
Order of the district court affirming magistrate's judgment, vacated, and case remanded.
Thompson, Smith, Woolf & Anderson, PLLC; Aaron J. Woolf, Idaho Falls, for appellant.
Smith & Banks, PLLC; Jeffery W. Banks, Idaho Falls, for respondent.
PERRY, Judge Pro Tem. Chief Judge GUTIERREZ and Judge MELANSON CONCUR.
[156 Idaho 339] PERRY, Judge Pro Tem
Daniel Douglas Mahnami (Father) and Tiffany Ann Mahnami (Mother) are the parents of Ashley Mahnami (Daughter), who was born in 2004. In the magistrate court, Father asked the judge to resolve four disputes where Mother and Father had reached a stalemate. The magistrate resolved the disputes by granting Mother the unilateral and sole authority to make final decisions regarding Daughter's " health, education, and general welfare." Father appealed to the district court and argued that the magistrate's decision exceeded its authority and amounted to an improper grant of sole legal custody to Mother. The district court affirmed. Father appealed.
Father and Mother divorced in 2009. The parties stipulated to joint legal custody and joint physical custody wherein Mother received primary physical custody of Daughter subject to specified periods of visitation by Father. This stipulation was incorporated into their divorce decree.
The parties were unable or unwilling to resolve several disputes informally. As a result, Father filed several motions, addressing four specific issues: Daughter's participation in soccer, Daughter's eye doctor appointments, counseling for Daughter, and the conveyance of insurance forms. As to the soccer issue, Father complained that Mother was punitively prohibiting Daughter from playing soccer. Mother responded that Daughter did not enjoy soccer, that Father signed Daughter up for soccer to harass Mother, and that Father was manipulating the soccer schedule to interfere with Mother's access to her child. As to the doctor appointments, Father claimed that Daughter's
[156 Idaho 340] school work was suffering, perhaps because of her eyesight. He also claimed that Mother was unwilling to schedule the necessary appointments. Mother replied that the child's eye doctor had told her that no additional eye exams were required, although visual therapy would be continued and she was able and willing to continue that therapy. As to the counseling issue, Father argued that counseling was appropriate because Daughter " had been upset lately, and not herself" and the " turmoil" between Father and Mother was causing Daughter to be distressed. Mother disagreed that Daughter needed counseling, and cited an expert opinion from the divorce litigation that supported her view. As to insurance forms, Father complained he was not receiving explanation of benefits forms within the time set forth in the divorce decree. Mother claimed that Father purposefully filed this motion while she was out of town and she attached all of the insurance forms to her affidavit.
The magistrate held a hearing to resolve each of these issues at which no evidence was presented by either party. At the beginning of the hearing, the court noted that it was being asked to " micromanage the activities of the parties" and asked if either party had filed a petition to modify the custody arrangement. Both parties indicated there was no such petition. Father's counsel explained that these four issues did not require a petition to modify custody because they were inherent to joint legal custody. He argued that joint custody creates shared decision-making authority wherein neither party has a " trump card" and the court must adjudicate disputes. Mother also presented arguments to the court expressly relying upon the lack of petition to modify custody.
The magistrate issued a written ruling. It acknowledged that neither party filed a petition to modify custody, nor requested any change in custody. The magistrate then explained its view of Idaho Code § 32-717B(3):
On its face, the statute itself creates a stalemate, meaning that no decision or action regarding the health, education, and general welfare of the child can be made without both parties agreeing. A literal reading of the statute would be that if the parties do not agree, neither party can act on behalf of the child or ...