IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF CHERYL LYNN THOMAS AND STEVEN ALLEN THOMAS Upon the Petition of CHERYL LYNN THOMAS, Petitioner-Appellee/Cross-Appellant, And Concerning STEVEN ALLEN THOMAS, Respondent-Appellant/Cross-Appellee.
from the Iowa District Court for Pottawattamie County, James
S. Heckerman, Judge.
appeal from the decree dissolving their marriage. AFFIRMED.
T. Glaser of Peters Law Firm, P.C., Council Bluffs, for
Michael J. Winter, Council Bluffs, for appellee.
Considered by Vogel, P.J., and Doyle and McDonald, JJ.
and Cheryl Thomas married in 1990 and divorced in 2016. This
is an appeal from the decree dissolving their marriage.
Steven contends the district court abused its discretion in
denying his motion for new trial and in denying his motion to
enlarge and amend the decree. He also contends the district
court inequitably divided the parties' marital property.
Cheryl contends the district court's alimony award was
illiberal and leaves her with inadequate financial support.
general proposition, our review of dissolution proceedings is
de novo. See In re Marriage of Gust, 858 N.W.2d 402,
406 (Iowa 2015). We review the entire record and decide anew
the factual and legal issues preserved and presented for
review. See In re Marriage of Williams, 589 N.W.2d
759, 761 (Iowa Ct. App. 1998). Prior cases have little
precedential value; we apply the relevant law to the unique
facts and circumstances of each case. See In re Marriage
of Kleist, 538 N.W.2d 273, 276 (Iowa 1995); In re
Marriage of Snowden, No. 14-1920, 2015 WL 4233449, at *1
(Iowa Ct. App. July 9, 2015). Although our review is de novo,
we afford deference to the district court. See In re
Marriage of Morrison, No. 16-0886, 2017 WL 936152, at *1
(Iowa Ct. App. Mar. 8, 2017). "[W]e will disturb a
district court determination only when there has been a
failure to do equity." In re Marriage of Mauer,
874 N.W.2d 103, 106 (Iowa 2016) (citing In re Marriage of
Anliker, 694 N.W.2d 535, 540 (Iowa 2005).
first address the district court's denial of the motion
for new trial. The nature of our review depends upon the
ground or grounds for the motion. Steven moved for new trial
pursuant to Iowa Rule of Civil Procedure 1.1004(1) and (3).
The rule allows for new trial where substantial rights are
affected by "[i]rregularity in the proceedings of the
court . . . or any order of the court . . . which prevented
the movant from having a fair trial" or where there was
"[a]ccident or surprise which ordinary prudence could
not have guarded against." Iowa R. Civ. P. 1.1004(1),
(3). Under the circumstances, we review the district
court's denial of Steven's motion for new trial for
an abuse of discretion. See In re Marriage of
Wagner, 604 N.W.2d 605, 608 (Iowa 2000).
motion for new trial, Steven first argued his trial counsel
was not prepared for trial and ineffectively presented
Steven's case. "The law regards the neglect of an
attorney as the client's own neglect, and will give no
relief from the consequences thereof." Jones v.
Leech, 46 Iowa 186, 187 (1877). Steven's trial
counsel's purported failure to prepare for trial and
purported failure to present Steven's case effectively
are not grounds for relief. See In re Marriage of
Repp-Danis, No. 16-0251, 2017 WL 936098, at *2 (Iowa Ct.
App. Mar. 8, 2017) (affirming denial of motion for new trial
where party claimed attorney was mentally impaired at the
time of trial); In re Marriage of Le, No. 12-0504,
2013 WL 2637805, at *2 (Iowa Ct. App. June 12, 2013) (stating
there is no right to effective assistance of counsel in
dissolution proceedings). The district court did not abuse
its discretion in denying Steven's motion on this ground.
also argued the district court unfairly limited the time for
trial, which precluded Steven from presenting his case in
full. He contends he was denied a meaningful opportunity to
testify. See In re Marriage of Seyler, 559 N.W.2d 7,
9 (Iowa 1997) (considering whether parties were afforded
"meaningful opportunity to be heard" where judge
deciding case was not judge who heard case). As a general
rule, the trial court has broad discretion to establish time
limits on trial. See In re Marriage of Ihle, 577
N.W.2d 64, 67 (Iowa Ct. App. 1998). Whether a time limit is
permissible depends on "the public and private interests
involved, the administrative burdens implicated, the risk of
an erroneous decision due to the nature of the hearing
provided, and the value of any additional safeguards."
Id. Here, the district court's scheduling order
set the matter for a half-day trial. At the time of trial,
the parties were actually given a full day. Because the
parties' youngest child was close to age eighteen at
trial, the primary issues in dispute were financial-division
of marital property and the amount of spousal support. Much
of the information the court needed to resolve these issues
was set forth in the affidavits of financial status. The
parties' testimony merely supplemented or clarified their
affidavits. Where the district court desired additional
information regarding the parties' financial status, it
directly requested the information from the parties. Given
the limited issues presented, the state of the evidence, and
the manner in which the district court conducted the trial,
the risk of an erroneous decision was not increased due to
the nature of the trial. There would have been little value
in extending the time for trial; the district court
explicitly requested the information material to the
financial issues presented. We see no reason to grant another
trial permitting the parties to submit identical financial
information or information cumulative to that already
introduced. See Iowa R. Evid. 5.403 (allowing judges
to exclude relevant but cumulative evidence). The district
court did not abuse its discretion in denying the motion for
address the district court's denial of Steven's
motion to amend or enlarge findings pursuant to Iowa Rule of
Civil Procedure 1.904(2). Our review is for an abuse of
discretion. See C & J Leasing Corp. v. Island Sun
Enters., Inc., No. 04-1042, 2005 WL 975544, at *4 (Iowa
Ct. App. Apr. 28, 2005); In re Marriage of Hall, No.
01-1927, 2002 WL 1586167, at *1 (Iowa Ct. App. July 19,
2002). Steven argues the district court should have made
different findings regarding the value of certain property
during the property division. The resolution of this issue is
interrelated with the resolution of both Steven's and
Cheryl's challenges to the economic provisions of the
decree. Because we make our own factual findings when a case
is tried in equity, see In re Marriage of
Schenkelberg, 824 N.W.2d 481, 484 (Iowa 2012); In re
Estate of Stodola, 519 N.W.2d 97, 99 (Iowa Ct. App.
1994), we move to the substance of the issues.
first challenges the district court's property division.
"Iowa is an equitable distribution state." In
re Marriage of Sullins, 715 N.W.2d 242, 247 (Iowa 2006).
"This 'means that courts divide the property of the
parties at the time of divorce, except any property excluded
from the divisible estate as separate property, in an
equitable manner in light of the particular circumstances of
the parties." Id. All property of the marriage
at the time of the divorce, except gifted or inherited
property, is divisible property. See In re Marriage of
Schriner, 695 N.W.2d 493, 496 (Iowa 2005). The relevant
considerations are set forth in the Iowa Code. See
Iowa Code § 598.21(5) (2016).
parties did have assets and liabilities to divide. The
district court awarded Cheryl, among other things, the
marital home, her marital share of Steven's retirement
account, and several life insurance policies. The district
court also made Cheryl responsible for repayment of a
promissory note evidencing a debt Cheryl and Steven incurred
in purchasing certain land. The district court awarded Steven
substantial personal property. Steven is an outdoorsman and
survivalist. He believes the American government and economy
are on the verge of collapse. In preparation, he acquired
tens of thousands of dollars' worth of ...