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In re Marriage of Spencer

Court of Appeals of Iowa

July 19, 2017

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.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Marshall County, John J. Haney, Judge.

         In a 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.

          Barry 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.

          TABOR, Judge.

         In this 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.

         I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

         After 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.

         Both 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.

         Once 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.

         Chris 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.

         Cara 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 ...


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