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In re Marriage of Pelletier

Court of Appeal of Iowa

June 12, 2013

IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF KAREN ANN PELLETIER AND PAUL JEFFRY PELLETIER Upon the Petition of KAREN ANN PELLETIER, Petitioner-Appellee/Cross-Appellant, And Concerning PAUL JEFFRY PELLETIER, Respondent-Appellant/Cross-Appellee.

Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Linn County, Nancy A. Baumgartner, Judge.

Paul Pelletier appeals, and Karen Pelletier cross-appeals, from their decree of dissolution of marriage.

Mark D. Fisher of Nidey, Erdahl, Tindal & Fisher, P.L.C., Cedar Rapids, for appellant.

Steven E. Howes and Jase H. Jensen of Howes Law Firm, P.C., Cedar Rapids, for appellee.

Heard by Vogel, P.J., and Vaitheswaran and Bower, JJ.


Paul Pelletier appeals, and Karen Pelletier cross-appeals, from the district court's decree dissolving their marriage. The parties challenge the ruling as it relates to custody, visitation, support, alimony, property distribution, attorney fees, contempt, and a request for an injunction. Because we agree with the findings and analysis of the district court, we affirm.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings

Karen and Paul Pelletier were married on December 31, 1999, after a year of dating. After Paul accepted new employment, the couple relocated to the Washington, D.C., area. Paul worked from 2000 until 2005, generally as an independent contractor, earning in excess of $100, 000 per year. During this time Karen worked as an independent grant writer.

Unable to have children, Paul and Karen adopted N.P., in 2005.

The parties are well-educated. Karen has a degree from Baylor University, and Paul has a master's degree and an advanced graduate certificate. Following the events of 9/11, Paul joined the Naval Reserve. He was commissioned as a public affairs officer in 2003, and his unit was deployed in 2005. Though the marriage was difficult prior to his deployment, the deployment placed additional strain on the marriage.

Prior to the deployment, Karen expressed a desire to return to Iowa so she could be closer to family. The parties executed an agreement to allow her to sell their marital home before Paul deployed. Karen and N.P. then moved to Iowa.[1] Paul was injured in 2008 and medically evacuated from Iraq. Paul claims to have sustained significant injuries, though he refused to provide Karen or the district court with his medical records.

Following Paul's return from Iraq, he remained stationed in Bethesda, Maryland, for two additional years. During this time he visited Karen and N.P. in Iowa on multiple occasions. Karen was the primary caregiver during and after Paul's deployment. Facing a court-martial, Paul accepted an "other than honorable discharge" from the Naval Reserve and moved to Iowa to be with his family. The parties disagree on the circumstances of Paul's discharge. He claims he left the military early at Karen's request. Karen claims Paul was discharged due to poor performance and misconduct.

Karen had, prior to Paul's discharge, purchased a home for the family in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Paul moved in with his family and had difficulty finding employment. Paul worked for some time in a cigar store, earning ten dollars per hour. He also worked for a short time as the Executive Director of the Finley Hospital Foundation, earning $85, 000 per year.[2] Paul also ran unsuccessfully for political office, which would have resulted in full-time employment. Karen continued to work as a grant writer and fundraiser, mostly from home. Financial difficulties, resulting from Paul's prolonged unemployment placed a significant strain on the marriage.

Paul and Karen disagree on the allocation of household labor following his move to Iowa. Paul claims to have been N.P.'s primary caregiver and homemaker and argues Karen was career orientated and disengaged from the family. Karen testified that she did the majority of household chores and child care duties while Paul spent the majority of his time sleeping and watching television.

The marriage further deteriorated when Karen had a brief affair. Shortly thereafter she informed Paul of her intention to divorce. A petition to dissolve the marriage was filed on May 31, 2011. The parties' disagreements intensified from this point on. The couple continued to argue about finances and Karen claims Paul demanded to have sex with her. When she refused, she claims he physically grabbed and threatened her. Karen then requested a protective order.

While waiting for a hearing to determine the permanency of the protective order, the parties reached an agreement on visitation. However, the parties' relationship continued to deteriorate. Paul cancelled the utilities on the family home occupied by Karen and N.P., tried to cancel Karen's cell phone, removed her from a country club membership, fired their housekeeper, charged his attorney's fees to her credit card, and made various allegations to Karen's employers and others which negatively impacted her both professionally and personally.

The divorce has been contentious, and neither party has acted in an exemplary manner. Both parents have made allegations against the other in the presence of their child. Paul will not allow the marital home to be sold, desires reconciliation, and, in lieu of reconciliation, intends to make the legal proceedings long and costly, while Karen is responsible for at least one instance of dishonesty before the district court.

A three-day divorce trial was held. After receiving dozens of exhibits and hours of testimony, the district court filed its ruling on September 10, 2012. The well-reasoned ruling established custody and visitation, determined appropriate child support and alimony, provided for the sale of the marital home, divided property, and disposed of a number of ancillary matters. Nearly every subject addressed by the district court is appealed and/or cross-appealed by the parties.

II. Standard of Review

We review dissolution of marriage proceedings de novo. In re Marriage of Morris, 810 N.W.2d 880, 885 (Iowa 2012). We give the findings of the district court weight, though we are not bound by them. In re Marriage of Schenkelberg, 824 N.W.2d 481, 484 (Iowa 2012). Prior cases are of little precedential value. In re Marriage of Weidner, 338 N.W.2d 351, ...

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