IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF PATRICIA F. MURPHY AND MICHAEL J. MURPHY Upon the Petition of PATRICIA F. MURPHY, Petitioner-Appellee, And Concerning MICHAEL J. MURPHY, Respondent-Appellant.
from the Iowa District Court for Shelby County, Joel E.
former husband appeals the district court's denial of his
petition to modify the spousal support order in the
dissolution decree. AFFIRMED.
J. Heims, Council Bluffs, for appellant.
Matthew V. Stierman of Stierman Law Office, P.C., Council
Bluffs, for appellee.
by Vogel, P.J., and Doyle and McDonald, JJ.
Murphy appeals the district court's denial of his
application to modify the spousal support provision contained
in the 2005 decree that dissolved his marriage to Patricia
Murphy. He claims the court should have modified the spousal
support award in light of his health issues that are
impacting his ability to continue to work and in light of his
claim that Patricia is no longer in need of support. He also
asks us to reduce or eliminate the district court's award
of Patricia's trial attorney fees. We affirm the district
Background Facts and Proceedings.
parties' twenty-five-year marriage was dissolved in March
2005, and in the stipulated decree, Michael was ordered to
pay Patricia $2750 per month in traditional alimony until
either party died or Patricia remarried. Shortly after the
dissolution decree was filed, Michael remarried, and he
maintains a law practice with his current wife, Kimberly.
Patricia has not remarried, and her sources of income,
besides the spousal support from Michael, include social
security, a portion of Michael's military pension, a
small pension payment, and the income from the rental
properties she was awarded in the dissolution proceeding,
totaling $3311.63 per month.
November 2015, Michael filed a petition to modify the spousal
support order of the dissolution decree, asserting his
support obligation should terminate at his retirement, which
he claimed was imminent in light of his age and declining
health. The matter proceeded to a trial on April 22, 2016. At
the trial, Michael testified he underwent a quadruple bypass
surgery. He also testified he has trouble with
regulating his heartbeat, is inflicted with recurrent
cellulitis, and has trouble sleeping. He also has physical
scars and psychological trauma associated with his military
service while in Vietnam. Michael asserted he receives a
sixty-percent disability benefit from the military due to his
health conditions. He also reported he was more recently
having difficulty with his memory-forgetting information in
the midst of trial and failing to remember court deadlines.
For that reason, Michael testified he has scaled back his law
practice to criminal law only, refusing to take cases dealing
with family law, personal injury, workers' compensation,
or court appointments. Michael asserted his doctors told him
to reduce his stress. In order to do so, Michael stated he
wanted to retire in light of his age-sixty-six years old-but
cannot do so with his monthly spousal support obligation.
practice where Michael works is completely owed by Kimberly,
and Michael receives a salary from his work at the firm in
the amount of $118, 500. He also receives a monthly veteran
disability benefit and pension payment in the amount of
$1676.38. He has no administrative obligations for the firm
or ownership interest in the firm, and he estimates that he
works sixty or sixty-five hours per week. In addition, the
law firm is located in a building that is owned by
Kimberly's property management company, and Michael also
has no interest in that company. The two rental properties
Michael was awarded in the dissolution proceeding in 2005
were transferred to Kimberly's property management
company during the time Michael was recovering from his heart
surgery. While Michael and Kimberly asserted at the
modification trial that the properties had no value at the
time of the transfer in light of the substantial repairs each
required, the financial affidavit Michael filed in the 2005
dissolution proceeding asserted the properties had a net
value of over $42, 000.
testified at the hearing that she continues to manage the
rental properties she was awarded in the dissolution
proceeding, work she performed before the parties'
dissolution, and has paid off over $200, 000 in mortgage debt
attached to the rental properties and the former marital
home. While she has typically taken an extended vacation each
year, she also has many physical ailments. After the
dissolution proceeding, she had knee surgery after falling at
work, she had wrist surgery, and more recently she underwent
another knee surgery due to a torn meniscus. In addition, she
was currently scheduled to have back surgery due to a
herniated disc, and she has thyroid disease. Because of her
age-sixty-six years old-and her physical condition, Patricia
testified she did not believe she could obtain any other
employment to support herself.
district court issued its order denying the modification
petition May 11, 2016. The court noted Michael's concerns
regarding his health and his desire to retire from the
practice of law but observed Michael's law license is
still active and no medical testimony was received into
evidence to support his claimed need for retirement. The
court also noted that while Patricia's net worth has
increased since the dissolution due to her work in
maintaining the rental properties and her efforts to pay off
her debt obligations, her annual income remained
steady-yielding between $23, 000 and $32, 000 annually. The
court concluded that while Michael and Kimberly may have a
legitimate purpose for transferring Michael's assets to
Kimberly's company and preventing Michael from having an
ownership interest in the law firm or property management
company, there was no consideration given for Michael's
support obligation to Patricia in Michael's retirement
plans. As the court noted, "Spousal support creates an
obligation which must be considered when considering
employment practices and in this case retirement."
Michael earned an annual salary of $118, 500 and annual
disability and pension payments of over $20, 000. He had no
responsibility for expenses for the law firm, yet he enjoyed
a comfortable lifestyle with Kimberly, remodeling the
apartment above their law firm at a cost exceeding $500, 000
and purchasing a motor home at a cost exceeding $87, 000. The
court also awarded Patricia her request for $16, 362 in trial
attorney fees. Michael appeals.
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