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In re Marriage of Dean

Court of Appeals of Iowa

March 12, 2014

IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF JEFFREY C. DEAN AND MELISSA A. DEAN; Upon the Petition of JEFFREY C. DEAN, Petitioner-Appellee/Cross-Appellant,
MELISSA A. DEAN, n/k/a MELISSA A. CHAPMAN, Respondent-Appellant/Cross-Appellee

Editorial Note:

This decision is published in table format in the North Western Reporter.

Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Pottawattamie County, Gregory W. Steensland, Judge. Melissa Chapman appeals, and Jeffrey Dean cross-appeals, certain economic provisions of the parties' dissolution decree.

Ryann A. Glenn of Petersen Law, P.L.L.C., Council Bluffs, for appellant.

Joseph J. Hrvol of Joseph Hrvol, P.C., Council Bluffs, for appellee.

Heard by Potterfield, P.J., and Doyle and Bower, JJ.



Melissa Chapman, f/k/a Melissa Dean, appeals and Jeffrey Dean cross-appeals certain economic provisions of the decree dissolving their marriage. Melissa asserts the district court erred in not awarding her a greater cash settlement because it failed to include certain premarital gifts and purchases in its calculation. Jeffrey asserts the court erred in failing to reduce its home equity computation by the value of Jeffrey's premarital-gifted land upon which the marital home was built and in awarding Melissa trial attorney fees. Upon our review, we affirm as modified.

I. Scope and Standards of Review.

We review dissolution of marriage cases de novo. Iowa R. App. P. 6.907; In re Marriage of McDermott, 827 N.W.2d 671, 679 (Iowa 2013). We decide the issues raised anew, but we do so with the realization that the district court possessed the advantage of listening to and observing firsthand the parties and witnesses. McDermott, 827 N.W.2d at 679 ; In re Marriage of Zabecki, 389 N.W.2d 396, 398 (Iowa 1986). Consequently, we credit the factual findings of the district court, especially as to the demeanor and believability of witnesses, but are not bound by them. Iowa R. App. P. 6.904(3)(g); In re Marriage of Fennelly, 737 N.W.2d 97, 100 (Iowa 2007). Finally, we note that because we base our decision on the unique facts of each case, precedent is of little value. In re Marriage of Brown, 776 N.W.2d 644, 647 (Iowa 2009).

II. Background Facts and Proceedings.

Jeffrey and Melissa married in December 2005. No children were born of this marriage. Both parties were employed throughout the marriage. Jeffrey has a high school education and is approximately ten hours short of his degree; Melissa has a Bachelor of Science degree from Iowa State University. Jeffrey entered into the marriage with significant premarital assets, specifically, numerous acres of land in Iowa and Nebraska.

During the marriage, the parties lived in a new house built on land given to Jeffrey by his parents in approximately 1995. To fund the building of the new house, Jeffrey used sale proceeds from a house he had sold, along with other assets and a mortgage. The mortgage was taken out prior to the parties' marriage; however, Melissa contributed to paying the mortgage during the parties' marriage. Additionally, Melissa made several payments during the course of the marriage for real estate taxes. The basement of the house was unfinished at the time of the marriage, but it was finished by the parties during their marriage. During the marriage, the parties did not share a bank account.

The parties separated in January of 2012, and Jeffrey remained in the marital home. On January 26, 2012, Jeffrey filed a petition to dissolve the marriage. Melissa later purchased a home in Council Bluffs for $80,000, with $10,000 loaned to her from her mother and a mortgage of $70,000.

Trial on the matter was held in February 2013. Melissa testified that she owned a house that was encumbered by a mortgage prior to the parties' marriage. Melissa sold her house in September 2005, netting approximately $35,000, and she and her daughter, now an adult living elsewhere, began living with Jeffrey. Melissa also owned certificates of deposit and had a savings account prior to the marriage equaling approximately $10,000. Melissa testified these funds were all spent during the marriage to pay for joint marital expenses, including furniture. Melissa testified that initially Jeffrey divided the household expenses equally between them; however, she later learned she was paying about ninety percent of the expenses. She further testified that she contributed to the finishing of the marital home's basement by providing funds and labor.

Jeffrey testified, and he generally denied Melissa's claims she contributed monetarily to ninety percent of the marital expenses, including the finishing of the basement. He testified that most of the property he owned was gifted to him by his parents many years before the marriage. He emphatically testified ...

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