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In re Marriage of Hammer

Court of Appeals of Iowa

September 13, 2017

IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF NATALIE RAE HAMMER AND CHRISTOPHER MICHAEL HOLLAND Upon the Petition of NATALIE RAE HAMMER, Petitioner-Appellee/Cross-Appellant, And ConcerningCHRISTOPHER MICHAEL HOLLAND, Respondent-Appellant/Cross-Appellee.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Winnebago County, DeDra L. Schroeder, Judge.

         A father appeals the denial of his petition to modify child support and a mother appeals the court's denial of her request for trial attorney fees.

          Sarah A. Reindl of Reindl Law Firm, Mason City, for appellant/cross-appellee.

          Becky S. Knutson of Davis, Brown, Koehn, Shors & Roberts, P.C., Des Moines, for appellee/cross-appellant.

          Vogel, P.J., and Potterfield and Mullins, JJ.

          VOGEL, Presiding Judge.

         Christopher Holland (Chris) appeals the modification court's decision to deny modification of the dissolution of marriage decree between him and Natalie Hammer. Chris asserts because the initial stipulated decree failed to state how child support was calculated it cannot serve as the basis in future modifications. He further asserts the modification court should have found child support anew. On cross-appeal, Natalie requests we reverse the modification court's denial of attorney fees and further seeks appellate attorney fees. Because the modification court appropriately considered the child support amount as set forth in the decree, and Chris failed to show a substantial change of circumstances, we affirm. We also affirm the modification court's denial of attorney fees for Natalie, but we award her $5000 fees on appeal.

         I. Backgrounds Facts and Proceedings

         Chris and Natalie's marriage in 1999 produced four children, all of whom are still minors. A stipulation and decree of dissolution of marriage were filed on April 27, 2015, granting the parties joint legal and physical custody of the children, with Natalie having somewhat more parenting time than Chris. Chris was responsible for paying Natalie $2200 each month in child support. The stipulation provided uncovered medical expenses "shall be paid by the parents in proportion to their respective net incomes." Accordingly, Chris was responsible for the children's health insurance and eighty-five percent of uncovered medical expenses, while Natalie was responsible for fifteen percent.

         Not directly related to child support, but clearly contemplated by the parties, was the substantial division of assets. The parties agreed Chris would pay Natalie $350, 000 for her share of his business, $2500 per month for 120 months in additional property settlement, and $75, 000 per year payable as "salary" for twelve years as a former employee of C.R. Holland. No spousal support was ordered.

         At the time of the dissolution, Natalie was not employed; however, her imputed income as reflected on her October 28, 2014 affidavit of financial status was $24, 000 annually. Since the decree was filed, she has taught one year at Waldorf College as an adjunct faculty earning $29, 000, as well as worked at the YMCA, two hours per week at $8.25 per hour. Her financial affidavit filed prior to the modification hearing listed her annual gross income at $29, 124. Chris owned and worked for numerous businesses including C.R. Holland, Holland Moving and Rigging Services, Atlas Enterprises, and Grok, L.L.C. Chris submitted a financial affidavit on October 14, 2014, showing his gross annual income at $68, 775. His affidavit filed prior to the modification hearing listed his gross monthly income as $12, 526.76 or approximately $150, 321.12 per year.

         In spite of this apparent increase in his income, Chris filed an application to modify child support on April 8, 2016, less than a year after the entry of the decree, asserting he had an involuntary reduction of his income. Natalie resisted. The matter came on for trial in September 2016. While reviewing the original child support stipulated amount, the court found "many factors went into the parties' agreement" as to how the child support figure was determined. Additionally, as the record was developed, the modification court noted Natalie's expert opined Chris's 2014 to 2015 income changed from a loss of $566, 801 to a gain of $294, 000, an increase of $861, 000. Finding no support for Chris's assertion his income had significantly decreased, and hence no evidence to support his claim of a substantial change of circumstances not contemplated by the decree, the modification court denied Chris's petition to modify. Chris appeals, and Natalie cross-appeals.

         II. Standard of Review

         We review the modification of a dissolution decree de novo. In re Marriage of Wessels, 542 N.W.2d 486, 490 (Iowa 1995). However, we will not disturb the trial court's ...


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