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In re Marriage of Erlandson

Court of Appeals of Iowa

August 2, 2017

IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF GARY E. ERLANDSON AND SUSAN KAY ERLANDSON Upon the Petition of GARY E. ERLANDSON, Petitioner-Appellant, And Concerning SUSAN KAY ERLANDSON, Respondent-Appellee.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Black Hawk County, George L. Stigler, Judge.

         Gary Erlandson appeals from the economic provisions of the decree dissolving his marriage to Susan Erlandson. AFFIRMED.

          Erin Patrick Lyons of Dutton, Braun, Staack & Hellman, P.L.C., Waterloo, for appellant.

          Heather A. Prendergast of Roberts, Stevens & Prendergast, P.L.L.C., Waterloo, for appellee.

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

          VAITHESWARAN, Presiding Judge.

         We must decide whether a separation decree controls the disposition of property and spousal support in a subsequent dissolution proceeding.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         Gary and Susan Erlandson married in 2001. They separated after nine years and formalized their status in a "stipulation for separation" prepared by Susan's attorney.[1] The stipulation stated "[e]ach party shall receive those items of real and personal property, household goods, and furnishings currently in their possession." It granted Susan the parties' home, required her to shoulder the mortgage, and held Gary responsible for a home equity loan of $23, 000. The stipulation stated, "If the parties should continue on and file a dissolution of marriage action, Gary agrees that he will remain responsible for this loan and have said loan transferred to his name only."

         The stipulation divided the parties' pensions as follows:

Susan is awarded all rights and interests in any pension plan, 401k plans and/or any other retirement plan, with no rights or interest in Gary. Susan shall be awarded one-half interest in any pension plan, 401K plans and/or any other retirement plan.

         Finally, the stipulation contained two provisions explaining the import of the document:

5. COMPLETE SETTLEMENT. This Stipulation for Separation shall be a complete settlement of the rights and obligations of the parties to each other. . . . .
18. DISSOLUTION OF MARRIAGE. The parties agree that if this matter should continue and proceed to a dissolution of marriage, that the above agreement and Stipulation for Separation shall remain in effect.

         After the stipulation was executed and presented to the district court, the court filed a "decree for separation" ordering the parties "legally separated." The court further "ordered and decreed" that "each and all of the terms, provisions, and agreements . . . contained in the Stipulation for Separation . . . is hereby ratified, confirmed, and approved and made a part of this Decree . . . as though fully set out herein and judgment is entered accordingly."

         The Erlandsons reconciled for several years but maintained separate finances. In time, Gary petitioned for a dissolution of the marriage.[2] Following trial, the district court filed a dissolution decree finding paragraph 18 of the stipulation-providing for the stipulation's continued effect in the event of a dissolution-"equitable." The court disposed of the home in accordance with the stipulation. As for the pensions, the court granted Susan "one-half" of Gary's military pension "per the Benson formula, when and if [Gary] becomes eligible to draw retirement pay."[3] The court subsequently filed an "order to divide military retired pay."

         The court next turned to spousal support. After acknowledging the stipulation did "not directly address alimony" and "reflect[ed] that each expects the other will take care of his or her own future needs, " the court awarded Susan temporary spousal ...


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