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In Re the Marriage of Anna Jane Griffith and Edwin H. Griffith

April 10, 2013


Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Black Hawk County, Andrea J. Dryer, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mullins, J.

A husband and wife both appeal the decree dissolving their marriage challenging the spousal support award and allocation of the survivorship benefits of a pension. AFFIRMED.

Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Tabor and Mullins, JJ.

We consider whether the district court properly awarded permanent spousal support of $2000 per month in its decree of dissolution of marriage. On cross-appeal, we consider whether the court erred in failing to award pension survivorship benefits. For the reasons stated below, we affirm on both appeals.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings

Anna Jane Griffith (Jane) and Edwin H. Griffith (Ed) married on February 25, 1989, in Peoria, Illinois. They have no children together. Jane is sixty-three years old. She received her college degree and teaching certificate in 1973 and thereafter worked as a teacher for the Peoria public school system. This is Jane's second marriage.

Ed is seventy-two years old. Prior to the marriage, he received his bachelor's degree from Lake Forest College, master's degree from the University of Cincinnati, and Ph.D. from the University of Iowa. After earning his Ph.D., Ed worked for one year at a high school before accepting a position as director of research for the Peoria public school system. He was promoted to executive director of research, then to business manager, and eventually to superintendent of schools. This is also Ed's second marriage.

Jane and Ed lived in Peoria for nine years after their marriage. In 1998 they moved to Waterloo so Ed could work for the University of Northern Iowa developing a program to train school superintendents via the Iowa Communications Network. Jane did not seek employment in Iowa except for a brief period of time from January 2000 until May 2001 when she taught at the Grundy Center Community Schools.

During their marriage Jane and Ed lived comfortably and enjoyed traveling. They went scuba diving off the Honduran Coast, owned a time share in Florida, and went on three African safaris. While in Iowa, the parties lived in a home worth $250,000. Ed owns an extensive gun collection. Jane operates a jewelry business as a hobby.

By the time Ed and Jane retired from the Peoria school system in 1998 after nine years of marriage, Ed had worked for a total of thirty-five years and Jane twenty-five. Ed accumulated a pension of $12,000 per month, and Jane accumulated a pension of $2076 per month from the Illinois Teachers Retirement System. Ed's net income from his pension after taxes is $9601. Ed's gross income from Social Security is approximately $317 per month, and his net Social Security is approximately $155, bringing his total net income to approximately $9756 per month. Jane's net income, consisting of her pension, is $1750 per month. Jane will not receive Social Security because Illinois's educational system deposits those deductions into the Teachers Retirement System.

Trial of this matter was held on November 30, 2011, and the district court entered its decree on February 20, 2012. The court awarded a total of $547,898 in marital assets to Jane and $547,899 in marital assets to Ed. The court also set aside $189,262 in inherited property to Jane and $113,863 to Ed. The court awarded each party a portion of the other party's monthly retirement benefits pursuant to the Benson formula. See In re Marriage of Benson, 545 N.W.2d 252, 257 (Iowa 1996). Pursuant to the property division, Jane will receive $1559.39 from Ed's pension each month and Ed will receive $362.93 from her pension, giving her income from retirement benefits of $2946,*fn1 and Ed $8560.*fn2 The court also awarded Jane spousal support of $2000 per month, bringing Jane's and Ed's final incomes to $4946 and $6560, respectively. On April 12, 2012, Jane filed a motion to enlarge or amend the decree seeking to include a provision awarding the survivorship benefits of both of their pensions to the other party. This motion was denied. Ed appeals from the decree, and Jane cross-appeals.

II. Standard of Review

Our scope of review is de novo. Iowa R. App. P. 6.907. Although we are not bound by the trial court's determination of factual findings, we will give considerable weight to them, especially when considering the credibility of witnesses. Iowa R. App. P. 6.904(3)(g). Prior cases, though helpful, have little precedential value since we must base our decision primarily on the particular circumstance of the parties presently before us. In re Marriage of Weidner, 338 N.W.2d 351, 356 (Iowa 1983). We accord the trial court considerable latitude ...

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