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In re Marriage of Goodrich

Court of Appeals of Iowa

October 11, 2017

IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF ROBERT H. GOODRICH AND TERESA O. GOODRICH Upon the Petition of ROBERT H. GOODRICH, Petitioner-Appellant/Cross-Appellee, And Concerning TERESA O. GOODRICH, Respondent-Appellee/Cross-Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Dallas County, Richard B. Clogg, Judge.

         Robert Goodrich appeals, and Teresa O'Hara cross-appeals, the economic provisions of the decree dissolving their marriage.

          Ryan D. Babich of Babich Goldman, P.C., Des Moines, for appellant/cross-appellee.

          Ryan A. Genest of Culp, Doran & Genest, P.L.C., Des Moines, for appellee/cross-appellant.

          Heard by Doyle, P.J., and Tabor and McDonald, JJ.

          TABOR, Judge.

         Robert Goodrich appeals the economic provisions of the decree dissolving his thirty-one-year marriage to Teresa O'Hara.[1] She cross-appeals. Robert challenges: (1) a $10, 000 cash property settlement awarded to Teresa, (2) the amount of traditional alimony and a requirement he maintain a life insurance policy for Teresa's benefit, and (3) Teresa's award of trial attorney fees. Teresa contends the alimony amount is too low and the district court should not have provided for an automatic reduction in support once Robert reaches full retirement age and receives social security benefits.

         Because the record does not support the equalization payment awarded to Teresa, we modify the decree to eliminate that obligation placed on Robert. On the question of alimony, we find the amount ordered was too high when considering the factors under Iowa Code section 598.21A (2016), and we modify the decree accordingly. We affirm an automatic reduction in support but modify the amount. We also modify the life-insurance requirement to provide for the termination of this obligation in 2025. We opt not to disturb the award of trial attorney fees, and we decline the parties' requests for appellate attorney fees.

         I. Background and Prior Proceedings

         Robert and Teresa married in 1985. Teresa received a bachelor's degree from Drake University that same year; Robert attended some college but never earned a degree. Over the years, Robert was the primary wage earner for the family. Teresa contributed some income as well, generally working part-time, but she left the work force for several years to take care of the home and their three children, who are all now young adults. From 2011 to 2014 she worked to establish her own business producing organic soaps.

         The parties separated in 2014, and Teresa moved out of the family home. Just before the separation, between January and March 2014, Robert drew $16, 000 in advances on their home equity line of credit. Teresa testified she did not know about the advances, but she also acknowledged that Robert handled all of the family finances. Robert claimed he did not know Teresa was planning to move out of the home until February. He testified his earnings had temporarily decreased due to a hernia surgery and he used the funds to pay off the balance on their joint credit card. Some sums were advanced because Robert knew Teresa's move would adversely impact the household cash flow.

         In February 2015, Robert and Teresa sold their home. Robert used $8100 of the proceeds to rent back the home from the buyers for four months past the date of the sale. From the remainder, the parties each received $20, 000 for their own use and then deposited $42, 000 in a joint checking account, which they agreed would be used to pay off their joint debt. At trial, Teresa argued Robert used the funds in the joint checking account to pay off his own personal debts and received a disproportionate share of the home-sale proceeds because of the rent-back arrangement. Teresa explained that when Robert removed himself from their joint credit card account, she was left to pay a balance of more than $12, 000 on that card, much of which she classified as Robert's personal debt and joint debt.

         Robert filed for divorce in June 2015. Throughout the course of the proceedings, Teresa relied in large part upon her inherited funds to pay her expenses. With some exceptions, Robert paid Teresa $2000 a month, and three months before trial, on December 15, 2015, the district court ordered Robert to pay Teresa temporary support in that amount. Even with Robert's support, Teresa's money market account, which contained only inherited funds, diminished from $60, 475 to $11, 509.[2]

         At the time of trial in late March 2016, Robert was living in Phoenix, Arizona, and Teresa was living in Eugene, Oregon. Robert was self-employed, working as a regulatory and quality assurance consultant for small drug manufacturers and re-packagers. Teresa was unemployed but acknowledged an earning capacity of $22, 880 in gross annual income. The primary issue to be resolved at trial was the amount of spousal support Teresa should receive. Robert proposed $1000 a month; Teresa requested $3600.

         The district court entered the dissolution decree in early May 2016. The court awarded Teresa her Scottrade IRA ($48, 496) and American Trust IRA ($28, 985), [3] as well as $34, 709 from Robert's Scottrade IRA ($128, 164). The court also awarded Teresa a $10, 000 cash property settlement.[4] The court ordered Robert to pay Teresa $2600 a month for traditional alimony, as well as $8637 toward Teresa's attorney fees.

         Both parties filed motions to enlarge and amend the court's findings. In response, the court reduced Robert's alimony requirement to $2000, to continue until he reaches full retirement age and receives social security benefits. After that time, Robert was to pay $1000 a month until either Robert or Teresa's death or until Teresa remarried. The court also ordered Robert to pay for and maintain $100, 000 of life insurance with Teresa as the primary beneficiary for as long as the alimony obligation continued.

         Robert appeals, and Teresa cross-appeals.

         II. Scope and Standard of Review

         Because dissolution proceedings are equitable in nature, our review is de novo. See In re Marriage of Mauer, 874 N.W.2d 103, 106 (Iowa 2016). We give weight to the fact-findings of the district court, particularly when considering the credibility of witnesses, but we are not bound by them. See In re Marriage of Sullins, 715 N.W.2d 242, 255 (Iowa 2006). We ordinarily will not disturb the district court's ruling unless it fails to do equity. See In re Marriage of Smith, 573 N.W.2d 924, 926 (Iowa 1998). Our review of the district court's award of attorney fees is for an abuse of discretion. See id.

         III. Cash Property Settlement

         The district court ordered Robert to pay Teresa a cash property settlement of $10, 000 in monthly payments of $178.18, including interest at the rate of 2.66% per year, "to equalize the division of property, excluding retirement accounts." The court indicated the payments were "intended to be an additional source of maintenance and support to [Teresa] as contemplated by [s]ection 523(a)(5) of Title 11, United States Code."[5] The court did not explain how it arrived at the amount of the equalization payment but did find:

The parties sold their home during the pendency of this action. When the home was sold, the parties agreed to pay off all joint debt. Teresa received a smaller settlement from the sale of the home than she initially anticipated. Robert also paid off his own personal expenses and marital expenses, ...

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