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In re marriage of Nelson

Court of Appeals of Iowa

August 16, 2017

IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF MARY J. NELSON AND KENNETH L. NELSON Upon the Petition of MARY J. NELSON, Petitioner-Appellee, And Concerning KENNETH L. NELSON, Respondent-Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Mitchell County, Colleen D. Weiland, Judge.

         A former husband appeals the property division and spousal support provisions of the decree that dissolved his marriage to his former wife.

          Aaron R. Murphy of Walk & Murphy, P.L.C., Osage, for appellant.

          Mary J. Nelson, St. Ansgar, appellee.

          Considered by Vogel, P.J., and Doyle and McDonald, JJ.

          VOGEL, PRESIDING JUDGE.

         Kenneth Nelson appeals certain provisions of the decree that dissolved his marriage to Mary Nelson. Kenneth claims the district court's property division and award of spousal support is inequitable.[1]

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         Kenneth, born in 1958, and Mary, born in 1961, were married in 1981 and made their marital home in St. Ansgar. Throughout the marriage, Kenneth and Mary worked a farming operation that included both livestock and crops. Kenneth performed most of the labor, in cooperation with his family members. Mary handled bookkeeping for the farming operation up to the time of their separation in 2011 and helped with labor occasionally. Kenneth also worked fulltime at St. Ansgar Mills.

         On August 25, 2011, Mary filed a petition to dissolve the marriage, seeking an equitable property distribution and spousal support. Prior to trial, the district court entered multiple orders relating to temporary matters that awarded Mary between $1500 and $2000 per month in temporary spousal support.

         Trial occurred over five days in August 2013 and September 2013. After trial, the court left the record open so the parties could supplement their financial records; the parties did so up to March 5, 2014. On December 26, 2014, the court entered an order that concluded the record was still incomplete and again reopened the record for further supplementation based on the court's specific requests. The order also increased Mary's temporary spousal support award to $2300 per month. One day of trial was held on the re-opened record on May 5, 2015. On December 31, 2015, the court entered a decree that dissolved the parties' marriage but left the findings of fact, conclusions of law, and resolution of the property-distribution and spousal-support issues for a later supplemental order.

         At the time of trial, Mary was living with her mother and was working part time in a seasonal agricultural job. Kenneth continued to live in the marital home with a paramour, remained employed at St. Ansgar Mills, and continued farming both individually and informally with other family members.

         On January 15, 2016, the court entered a supplement decree. The court accepted the parties' stipulation to the existence and value of many of the marital assets although the sheer passage of time since the first day of trial caused great fluctuations in values, as well as the existence of many assets. Regarding the categorization and valuation of several disputed assets, the court noted: "The longstanding sharing, trading, and in-kind transfers between Ken and his family members render determination difficult. Compounding the difficulty is the less-than-forthcoming testimony offered by Ken and his family members." The court repeated its skepticism regarding Kenneth's testimony in valuing several of the disputed assets.

         In dividing the marital property, the court, while concluding Mary had overstated some valuations, agreed with Mary's claim Kenneth had dissipated marital assets:

There is sufficient evidence for me to conclude that, whether innocently or maliciously, Ken failed to disclose all of the marital assets under his control for purposes of appraisal, the parties' stipulation, or presentation to the court. His testimony was vague and obtuse about information that would have clarified assets or values. He and his family, before and during the separation, engaged in a variety of ...

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