Download as DOC IN THE COURT OF APPEALS OF IOWA No. 5-178 / 04-1370 Filed August 31, 2005 IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF NORA JEAN NEDBALEK and WILLIAM CHRIS NEDBALEK Upon the Petition of NORA JEAN NEDBALEK, a/k/a NORA JEAN NEDBALEK MYLETT, Appellant, And Concerning WILLIAM CHRIS NEDBALEK, Appellee. Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Jefferson County, Daniel F. Morrison, Judge. Nora Jean Nedbalek Mylett appeals from the modification of her decree of dissolution. AFFIRMED. Thomas H. Makeig, Fairfield, for appellant. Douglas L. Tindal of Tindal & Kitchen, P.L.C., Washington, for appellee. Sarah W. Cochran of Foss, Kuiken, Gookin & Cochran, P.C., Fairfield, for child. Heard by Vogel, P.J., and Miller and Hecht, JJ. HECHT, J. Nora Jean Nedbalek Mylett appeals from the modification of her decree of dissolution. We now affirm. I. Background Facts and Proceedings. Nora and Chris are the parents of Tina, born December 15, 1992. Their marriage was dissolved in 1996 in the state of Oklahoma. The dissolution decree provided for a joint physical care arrangement whereby Tina would reside with Nora four days per week, and then with Chris for the remaining three days. In 1999, upon deciding to move their respective households to Fairfield, Iowa, the parties sought and received a modification of the original dissolution decree maintaining the shared physical care arrangement, and also providing for an agreement to enroll Tina in the Maharishi School of the Age of Enlightenment (MSAE) located in Fairfield. Tina attended MSAE from first through fifth grade.[1] Nora has remarried, and her husband is employed at the Maharishi University of Management.[2] The record reveals Tina has developed a healthy relationship with her step-father. In 2004, Chris expressed a desire to attend law school in Oklahoma, and requested from Nora permission to home-school Tina there for the remainder of her fifth-grade year and the following summer. Although Nora initially consented to the move, she later withdrew her consent shortly before Tina was to leave Fairfield with Chris. Despite the withdrawal of Nora's consent to the move, Chris and Tina relocated to Oklahoma. Nora filed a petition for modification in the Iowa district court seeking Tina's physical care and Chris invoked the power of an Oklahoma court and requested physical care be allocated to him. The parties, by stipulation, subsequently agreed the Iowa district court would decide the issue of which parent would be the "school-year" parent, and which parent would be the "visitation" parent. Under the stipulation, the "school-year" parent would have physical care of Tina during each school year and would maintain the right to decide the school Tina would attend. The district court determined Tina's best interests dictated Chris should be the "school-year" parent. Nora now appeals, contending the district court erred in (1) applying the best interest criteria to the particular circumstances of this case, (2) failing to place an appropriate burden on Chris to demonstrate the move to Oklahoma was in Tina's best interests, and (3) substituting its judgment for the parents' prior joint decision to raise Tina in the transcendental meditation lifestyle. II. Scope and Standard of Review. Our review in dissolution cases is de novo. Iowa R.App. P. 6.4.; In re Marriage of Benson, 545 N.W.2d 252, 253 (Iowa 1996). The district court is charged with making physical care determinations in accordance with its assessment of the child's best interest. Iowa Code 598.41 (2003). We therefore "accord the trial court considerable latitude in making this determination and will disturb the ruling only when there has been a failure to do equity." In re Marriage of Spiegel, 553 N.W.2d 309, 319 (Iowa 1996). III. Discussion. The critical issue in determining the best interests of the child is which parent will do better in raising the child. In re Marriage of Ullerich, 367 N.W.2d 297, 299 (Iowa Ct. App. 1985). In making this determination, gender is irrelevant. Id. The objective is to place the child in an environment most likely to bring the child to healthy physical, mental, and social maturity. In re Marriage of Harris, 499 N.W.2d 329, 332 (Iowa Ct. App. 1993). We begin by noting how very closely the competing equities are aligned in this case. Tina is fortunate to have loving parents who are both suitable providers of physical care. In situations where the suitability of each parent is essentially in equipoise, we believe the district court's findings on physical care are entitled to particular weight. The district court had the parties before it, was able to observe their demeanor, and was in a better position to evaluate them as custodians. In re Marriage of Engler, 503 N.W.2d 623, 625 (Iowa Ct. App. 1993). We agree with the district court's conclusion that Tina's best interest dictates her physical care should be provided by Chris during the school-year. Despite her move away from Nora,[3] Tina is afforded liberal visitation with Nora on holidays and during the summer months. Chris and Tina will be living with Tina's paternal grandmother while Chris attends law school, and Tina's move to Oklahoma will maximize her contacts with the Nedbalek extended family which the district court described as "fairly close in proximity and as a family group." In addition, Chris has enrolled Tina in a highly regarded private school in Oklahoma City for her sixth- grade year. Upon de novo review, and after consideration of all arguments advanced by Nora on appeal and the custody factors enumerated in Iowa Code section 598.41(1), we find no reason to disagree with the disposition ordered by the district court, and we therefore affirm the modification of the parties' dissolution decree. AFFIRMED. ----------------------- [1] During Chris's employment at MSAE, Tina's tuition was waived and Chris was relieved of the obligation to pay additional child support. [2] Upon the termination of Chris's employment at MSAE, Tina continued her tuition-free education at MSAE because Nora's current husband was employed at the Maharishi University of Management, an affiliate of MSAE. [3] Nora criticizes Chris for uprooting Tina from Fairfield where her friends, her school, and her mother and step-father live. See Iowa Code 598.41(3)(b),(h) (indicating the geographic proximity of parents and the lack of active contact with each parent are both factors to be considered by the district court when making custody arrangements). We note, however, that Chris's decision to relocate is but one factor among many in making custody determinations, and alone is not a sufficient reason to favor the physical care arrangement advanced by Nora. In re Marriage of Courtade, 560 N.W.2d 36, 38 (Iowa Ct. App. 1996).