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In re Marriage of Salehe

Court of Appeals of Iowa

June 21, 2017

IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF MBONGYA SALEHE AND FITINA CHARLOTTE Upon the Petition of MBONGYA SALEHE, Petitioner-Appellee, And Concerning FITINA CHARLOTTE, Respondent-Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Dallas County, Randy V. Hefner, Judge.

         A former wife appeals the economic provisions of the decree dissolving her marriage. AFFIRMED.

          Agnes G. Warutere of Warutere Law Firm, P.L.L.C., Clive, for appellant.

          Mbongya Salehe, appellee pro se.

          Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Tabor and Mullins, JJ.

          TABOR, Judge.

         This divorce appeal involves Iowa residents who married twenty years ago while living in central Africa. Fitina Charlotte challenges the decree dissolving her marriage to Mbongya Salehe, claiming (1) the court inequitably divided marital property, (2) Salehe dissipated marital assets, (3) she is entitled to reimbursement alimony, and (4) she should receive all, not just a portion, of her trial attorney fees. Charlotte also seeks appellate attorney fees. Recognizing the district court's superior ability to observe the parties and evaluate their credibility, upon our de novo review, we affirm. We also decline Charlotte's request for appellate attorney fees.

         I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

         In June 1996, the parties were married in the country currently known as the Democratic Republic of Congo. Because war broke out soon after their marriage, the parties fled to a refugee camp in Tanzania and did not live together continuously. In 2008, Charlotte moved to the United States with her two children.[1] Salehe stayed in Tanzania and studied to be a teacher, although he did not complete the program. Two years later, Charlotte helped Salehe relocate to the United States. Salehe lived with Charlotte and her two children in central Iowa for about eighteen months before he moved to a separate residence.

         Both parties are employed at Tyson Foods, with Charlotte earning $33, 000 and Salehe earning $43, 800 in 2015.[2] Charlotte testified she added Salehe's name to a joint checking account and they divided some expenses, but he devoted his earnings to helping his family members move from the refugee camps to Kenya.

         On March 12, 2015, Salehe filed a petition to dissolve the marriage. The case proceeded to trial on March 14 and 30, 2016, and the court entered a dissolution decree on April 6, 2016.

         Charlotte now appeals. Salehe declined to file an appellee's brief.

         II. Scope and Standards of Review

         We review the challenge to the dissolution decree de novo. See In re Marriage of McDermott, 827 N.W.2d 671, 676 (Iowa 2013). We examine the entire record and decide anew the legal and factual issues properly presented. See In re Marriage of Rhinehart, 704 N.W.2d 677, 680 (Iowa 2005). But "we recognize that the district court was able to listen to and observe the parties and witnesses." In re Marriage of Gensley, 777 N.W.2d 705, 713 (Iowa Ct. App. 2009). Consequently, we give weight to the district court's findings of fact, especially when considering witness credibility, but we are not bound by them. See In ...


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