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In re Marriage of Martin

Court of Appeal of Iowa

September 5, 2013

Upon the Petition of TINA MARIE MARTIN, Petitioner-Appellant, And Concerning RICHARD GLEN MARTIN, Respondent-Appellee.

Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Fayette County, Richard D. Stochl, Judge.

Tina Zimmerman appeals from the district court's property division in its dissolution decree.

John Hofmeyer, Oelwein, for appellant.

Linda Jensen Hall, Waterloo, for appellee.

Considered by Eisenhauer, C.J., and Potterfield and Tabor, JJ.


Tina Zimmerman[1] appeals from the property division in her dissolution decree.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings

Richard Martin is forty-eight years old and has two children from a previous marriage. After graduating high school, he served in the Army for four years before spending a year studying automotive technology at Hawkeye Tech. Richard currently works as an inspector for John Deere. In 2003, he bought an acreage in Oelwein.

Tina Zimmerman is forty-four years old and also has two children from a previous marriage. She graduated from Northeastern Iowa Community College in May 2007 and currently works as a nurse. Before she married Richard, Tina lived in a home in Stanley. Although the home is in her name, she is holding the property for the benefit of her niece and has not invested any money in it. Both parties agree the home was not a part of the marital estate.

When Richard and Tina married on August 18, 2007, Tina moved her personal property onto the Oelwein acreage, which became their marital home. In 2010, as they nearly finished renovating the acreage home, it was destroyed by fire. The insurance proceeds were used to pay the mortgage balance and replaced some items lost in the fire. Richard and Tina purchased a home in Oelwein, which they used as their marital residence. They have no children together.

In 2011, Richard earned $75, 159 and Tina earned $39, 402. Richard owns a pension through John Deere, and Tina owns a 401(k) plan worth $1412. Although Tina's 401(k) is through her employer, only she has contributed to the fund, which was opened during the marriage.

On April 3, 2012, Tina filed a petition for dissolution of marriage. Trial on the sole issue of division of marital property and debts was held, and the court entered its judgment and decree, largely dividing the marital property according to Richard's asset and debt worksheet and refusing Tina's request for a $30, 000 equalization payment. After the district court denied Tina's post-decree motion, she appealed, challenging multiple aspects of the decree.

II. Scope and Standard of Review

We review dissolution of marriage proceedings de novo, examining the entire record, and adjudicate the issue of property distribution anew. In re Marriage of McDermott, 827 N.W.2d 671, 676 (Iowa 2013). While we give weight to the district court's findings, especially concerning witness credibility, we are not bound by them. In re Marriage of Schenkelberg, 824 N.W.2d 481, 484 (Iowa 2012). We will disturb the district court's ruling only if there has been a failure to do equity. In re Marriage of Kimbro, 826 N.W.2d 696, 698 (Iowa 2013).

III. Analysis

A. Property Distribution

Tina argues she is leaving the marriage with less than she came in with, while Richard is parting with more. Her main contention regards the district court's awarding Richard the acreage without providing an equalization payment. Richard bought the acreage in July 2003 for $50, 000. The real estate included a garage, shed, and house. Five months before Richard married Tina, he refinanced the property with a $77, 600 mortgage and a $10, 000 home equity loan.

Richard testified he refinanced the acreage to make improvements to the home, including new windows, siding, an addition, a new roof, and updated wiring. Tina testified a portion went to pay off premarital debt. The parties maintained separate financial accounts, with Tina transferring money into Richard's account to help pay the acreage's monthly mortgage, tax, and homeowner's insurance payments. Tina provided no records showing what amount she transferred to Richard's account. In 2010, as they nearly finished remodeling, a fire destroyed the home. Although the insurer satisfied the acreage's remaining $77, 600 mortgage, it refused to pay the $10, 000 home equity loan.

Tina argues the district court did not do equity when it set aside the acreage as nonmarital property because Richard held no equity in the property before the marriage, the appreciation in equity was due to the parties' joint efforts, and the acreage's current equity is in part created by her efforts.

Richard highlights the short term of their marriage and asserts he brought the property into the marriage. He notes the balance of the home equity loan was rolled into the debt on their Chevrolet Impala, which he was awarded, decreasing its equity. He argues any sweat equity by either party was destroyed at the time of the fire, after which they moved to a separate home, and Tina has contributed no equity to the acreage since. Richard considers the enhanced value of the real estate to be caused by fortuitous circumstances rather than their joint efforts.

In dissolution proceedings, we divide property, except for inherited property and gifts expected or received by one party, equitably ...

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