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In re Marriage of Repp-Danis

Court of Appeals of Iowa

March 8, 2017

IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF ELIZABETH A. REPP-DANIS AND MICHELE M. REPP-DANIS Upon the Petition of ELIZABETH A. REPP-DANIS, Petitioner-Appellant, And Concerning MICHELE M. REPP-DANIS, n/k/a MICHELE M. DANIS, Respondent-Appellee.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Boone County, Steven J. Oeth, Judge.

         Elizabeth Repp-Danis appeals the denial of a motion for new trial and the division of property provisions of the decree dissolving her marriage to Michele M. Danis. AFFIRMED.

          Andrew B. Howie of Hudson, Mallaney, Shindler & Anderson, P.C., West Des Moines, for appellant.

          Angelina M. Thomas of Newbrough Law Firm, L.L.P., Ames, for appellee.

          Heard by Mullins, P.J., and Bower and McDonald, JJ.

          BOWER, Judge.

         Elizabeth Repp-Dannis (Beth) appeals the district court's decision denying her motion for new trial and the provisions of the dissolution decree dividing property between the parties. We find the district court properly denied the motion for a new trial and properly divided the assets and debts of the parties. We affirm.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         Michele and Beth Repp-Dannis began dating in 1997. Beth began living with Michele in 1998, and the couple remained in Michele's home until 2001. In 1999, the parties had a commitment ceremony at the Unitarian Fellowship in Ames, Iowa, changed their last names to Repp-Danis, and considered themselves to be married. On January 12, 2010, Beth and Michele were legally married. The district court considered the relationship "a long-term marriage, given that Beth and Michele have considered each other spouses since 1999."

         Beth and Michele entered the relationship with debt and continued to spend beyond their means. During the relationship, Beth's grandfather died and left her an interest in a farm which she sold for $85, 500. Beth used this inheritance to pay outstanding debts, purchase cars, and pay for the 1999 ceremony. When Beth's father died, in 2001, she again inherited a portion of a farm and sold her interest for $226, 500. This inheritance was used to pay for a new car for Michele, travel, a house the parties lived in, furniture, equipment to care for the property, and remodeling the home, with most of the work being done by Michele.

         The parties continued to accumulate debt. They transferred debt between credit cards, mortgaged the home to pay off the credit card balances, and began the cycle again. Michele's father died in 2011, and she inherited approximately $60, 000. This money was used to pay off outstanding debts, to purchase materials to build a deck, and as down payments for a new Jeep and camper. By the time of trial, Michele had effectively spent the entire amount of her inheritance. The most recent mortgage, $101, 972.61, taken in October of 2010, had a balance of $93, 651.32 at the time of trial and was owed by the parties as tenants-in-common. The mortgage was used to pay off the debts both parties had accumulated, as well as continuing to finance the parties' lifestyle. In addition to the mortgage, the parties owed more than $15, 000 in credit card debt.

         Beth petitioned for dissolution of marriage on March 17, 2015, and trial was held on November 18. On November 24, the district court entered its decree and valued the house at $145, 000, granted Beth the house, granted Michele half the equity, and required Beth to pay the mortgage.

         Beth requested an extension of time to enlarge and amend the decree, citing her attorney's "personal health reasons." On December 9, trial counsel filed an application to withdraw and informed the district court withdrawal was necessary due to medical issues. The district court granted counsel's motion to withdraw on December 10. The next day Beth filed a motion to vacate the decree and grant a new trial, claiming trial counsel had been mentally impaired during the trial. Further, Beth claimed counsel had hidden his impairment before and during the trial and only disclosed the impairment on December 7, after the district court entered its decree. ...


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