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In re Marriage of Thomas

Court of Appeals of Iowa

September 13, 2017

IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF ANGELA MAY THOMAS AND STEVEN RAY THOMAS Upon the Petition of ANGELA MAY THOMAS, Petitioner-Appellee, And Concerning STEVEN RAY THOMAS, Respondent-Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Jasper County, Randy V. Hefner, Judge.

         The husband appeals from the economic provisions of the parties' dissolution decree. AFFIRMED.

          Barry S. Kaplan and C. Aron Vaughn of Kaplan & Frese, L.L.P., Marshalltown, for appellant.

          Lucas W. Otto of Otto Law Office, P.L.L.C., Newton, for appellee.

          Considered by Danilson, C.J., and Potterfield and Bower, JJ.

          POTTERFIELD, JUDGE

         Steven Thomas appeals from the economic provisions of the decree dissolving his marriage to Angela Thomas. In response, Angela asks us to affirm the district court's decree and award her $2500 in appellate attorney fees.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

         Angela and Steven were married in May 2009, when they were approximately thirty-five and forty-four years old, respectively.

         Steven has a high school degree and "some college." He has been unemployed at times during his adult life, but he has been employed generally in the construction industry. At the time the parties were married, Steven had been recently injured at a construction job; he was receiving $1400 each month in worker's compensation benefits as well as some unemployment benefits. After the parties married, Steven underwent surgery for his back injury; he has not returned to work since. He testified he remains in "considerable" pain and is able to work "only intermittently." In 2011, Steven received a lump sum settlement of $200, 000 that was placed in the parties' joint account. By the time of the dissolution hearing-September 2016-the settlement funds had been exhausted. Steven testified he has no income and no way to support himself; he intended to apply for Social Security Disability but was advised to wait until after the dissolution proceedings were completed.

         Angela works approximately twenty hours per week stocking shelves at a local grocery store and earns approximately $12, 000 annually. Angela is in good health; however, she has a sixteen-year-old son (from a previous relationship) with severe physical and intellectual disabilities who requires around-the-clock care. Angela was receiving approximately $745 per month in Social Security benefits on behalf of her son until sometime in 2014 or 2015, when Social Security informed Angela it was seeking approximately $25, 000 from her for overpayment of benefits. While there is a dispute over whether Angela reported Steven's lump sum settlement to Social Security when he received it in 2011, it is undisputed the debt was caused by the receipt of the settlement funds. Once the debt is paid, Angela will begin receiving monthly benefits again, but she receives nothing while the outstanding debt remains. She testified she currently has no way to pay the debt.

         Before the parties knew each other, Angela's parents bought the home next door to their own. They intended for Angela and her son to live there so they could help her when she needed them. The parents put $3000 down and financed $27, 000 in the form of a mortgage. Angela was responsible for making the monthly mortgage payments. Additionally, before Angela moved in, Angela's parents spent approximately $15, 000 on updates and repairs, including putting in a new furnace, replacing all of the windows, and fixing a water line. The home has been made accessible for Angela's son by adding a ramp and installing a shower into which his wheelchair can be rolled directly.

         With part of the $200, 000 settlement, Steven and Angela paid off the remaining mortgage on the home-approximately $21, 500-and paid Angela's parents $5000. Steven estimated the parties spent another $50, 000 in additional repairs and renovations to the home, including redoing the kitchen and a bathroom and adding insulation. In his pretrial report, Steven claimed he had completed $50, 000 worth of labor on the home. Nevertheless, at the time of trial, the home was worth $66, 000.[1]

         Additionally, the parties bought a second property, which they intended to "flip." They spent $16, 500 purchasing the home in a foreclosure action and at the time of trial, the home was worth $34, 000. Steven testified the home could not be sold without further work completed because in its current state, it did not qualify for a mortgage. Steven did not testify as to the amount of money spent on repairing the home, [2] but he claimed in his pretrial report that he had "put in hundreds of hours of sweat equity on [the] property." He believed the home ...


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