IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF CARA RENEE SPENCER AND CHRIS SPENCER Upon the Petition of CARA RENEE SPENCER, Petitioner-Appellant, And Concerning CHRIS SPENCER, Respondent-Appellee.
from the Iowa District Court for Marshall County, John J.
dissolution-of-marriage appeal, a former wife challenges the
joint-physical-care arrangement for their son and the award
of the parties' acreage to her former husband.
S. Kaplan and C. Aron Vaughn of Kaplan & Frese, L.L.P.,
Marshalltown, for appellant.
Bethany J. Currie of Peglow, O'Hare & See, P.L.C.,
Marshalltown, for appellee.
Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Tabor and Mullins, JJ.
appeal, Cara Spencer lodges two objections to the decree
dissolving her marriage to Chris Spencer. First, she asserts
joint physical care is not in the best interests of their
son, M.C.S. Second, she contends awarding the farm property
they purchased during the marriage to Chris was inequitable.
Considering the factors set out by our legislature and prior
court decisions, we reach the same result as the district
court on both the custody and property issues.
Facts and Prior Proceedings
graduating from Simpson College in 2001, Cara took a job in
Dallas, Texas, where she met her future husband, Chris
Spencer. Chris had received an architecture degree from Texas
Tech. Cara and Chris married in 2002. Their only child,
M.C.S., was born in 2011. After his birth, the couple decided
to move to Tama, Iowa, where Cara grew up. Cara's parents
still lived in Tama County and Chris's parents, native
Texans, soon joined the family in Iowa. M.C.S. enjoys a close
relationship with both sets of grandparents.
Cara and Chris have been employed outside the home throughout
the marriage. Chris served as a city planner in Texas, and in
Iowa he worked for the Meskwaki Tribe, first as a natural
resources director and later as a grant writer and planner.
He earned about $70, 000 annually. Cara had a job with
Raytheon in Texas, eventually worked for Pioneer in Toledo,
and at the time of trial, worked as an employment manager at
Iowa Premium Beef in Tama. Her annual salary was
approximately $72, 000.
settled in Iowa, Chris and Cara bought a house in Tama, and
later a small farm-just shy of twenty acres-outside of
Toledo. The Spencers' rural property is located just a
mile from the farm where Cara grew up and where her parents
still live. Cara's parents rented the parties' farm
ground for eighteen years, paying $750 per year to plant row
crops on about six acres and to use the remaining pastures to
run cattle. Cara and Chris tore down the old farm house and
planned to build a new one, but their plans never came to
fruition. The farm cost $82, 000, but at the time of trial it
was worth only $60, 000-the same amount the couple owed on
the purchase. Cara wanted the farm after the divorce,
testifying, "I still fully plan on building on it and
living there." She explained her attachment to the
property stemmed from its proximity to her parents' land.
Similarly, Chris testified he still would like to build a
house on the farm, and his parents lived nearby as well.
Chris testified he pushed for the original purchase of the
property because he wanted their son to have a chance to grow
up in the country. As "an avid hunter, " Chris
sought access to the timber to shoot turkey and deer. He also
expressed a desire to raise cattle on the land.
was diagnosed with a brain tumor in November 2015 and
underwent surgery in January 2016. He suffered some residual
speech difficulties and did not have full use of his left
hand at the time of the trial. Otherwise, Chris, Cara, and
M.C.S. were in good health.
filed a petition to dissolve the marriage in May 2016. During
their separation, Cara and Chris used a shared-care
arrangement, without court intervention, in which M.C.S.
would go back and forth between the parents every other day.
After holding trial in early December 2016, the district
court issued the decree later that month. The court granted
Chris and Cara joint legal custody of M.C.S., as well as
joint physical care. Per the agreement of the parties, the
court awarded ...