IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF JOEL D. STENZEL AND CHERYL A. STENZEL Upon the Petition of CHERYL A. STENZEL, Petitioner-Appellee, And Concerning JOEL D. STENZEL, Respondent-Appellant.
from the Iowa District Court for Dallas County, Randy V.
Stenzel appeals from the spousal support provisions of the
decree dissolving his marriage to Cheryl Stenzel.
S. Blackburn of Finley Law Firm, P.C., Des Moines, for
A. Shutts and Van T. Everett of Whitfield & Eddy, P.L.C.,
Des Moines, for appellee.
by Danilson, C.J., and Doyle and Mullins, JJ.
DANILSON, CHIEF JUDGE.
Stenzel appeals from the spousal support provisions of the
decree dissolving his thirty-two-year marriage to Cheryl
Stenzel. Joel characterizes the support awarded to Cheryl as
reimbursement support, which he contends is improper here. He
also maintains the statutory language that support should be
"at a standard of living reasonably comparable to that
enjoyed during the marriage" is not forward looking and,
thus, his "current and future earnings should not be a
primary focus of the case." Joel asserts the court's
consideration of certain of Cheryl's expenses is not
allowed under Iowa Code section 598.21A(1). Additionally,
Joel objects to the amount of spousal support ordered both
before and after retirement, the equalization fee related to
attorney fees, and the court's finding that Joel's
cosmetic dental costs paid from marital assets should be
reimbursed to Cheryl. Finding no failure to do equity in the
court's rulings, we affirm.
parties agreed Cheryl was entitled to permanent spousal
support but disagreed as to the amount and duration. At
trial, Joel proposed Cheryl receive $3500 per month until he
reaches the age of sixty-six; Cheryl asked for $15, 000 per
month until she reaches the age of sixty-seven and $4000 per
month thereafter until the death of either party or her
remarriage. The court ordered spousal support in the amount
of $12, 000 per month, which would decrease to $8000 per
month when Joel reached the age of sixty-two (the court found
this age was consistent with Joel's testimony that he
anticipated a career change in six or seven years, as well as
being consistent with the couple's plan that Joel's
move would expedite his retirement). The support would
decrease again to $4000 per month when Joel reached the age
of full social security retirement (age sixty-seven).
thoroughly reviewed the testimony and exhibits, we agree with
and adopt the following fact findings of the district court:
Cheryl and Joel were married on August 11, 1984. Cheryl was
[twenty-three] and Joel [twenty-four] years of age. [At the
time of trial, ] Cheryl [was] [fifty-five] years and Joel
[fifty-six] years of age. Neither brought any significant
property or debt into the marriage. The parties did not
execute a prenuptial agreement.
At the time of the marriage, Joel had just completed his
second year of medical school at the University of Iowa.
Cheryl entered pharmacy school at the University of Iowa
shortly after the marriage. Joel graduated from medical
school in 1986. He completed a family medicine residency in
Cedar Rapids following medical school, and he completed a
residency in pediatrics from 1987-1990 at what is now Blank
Children's Hospital in Des Moines. Between 1990-1993,
Joel completed a fellowship in neonatology at Texas
Children's Hospital in Houston. He returned to Des Moines
in 1993 and worked for Newborn Care Consultants. Iowa
Methodist Medical Center purchased this practice in
approximately 1994 or 1995, and the practice was integrated
into Blank Children's Hospital. Joel worked at Blank
until early 2013. He then took a position with Newborn
Specialists in Tulsa. Joel is board certified in pediatrics
and neonatal-perinatal medicine. He is licensed to practice
medicine in Oklahoma and Iowa.
Cheryl graduated with a degree in chemistry in 1983 and then
attended pharmacy school from 1984-1987. She graduated with a
Bachelor of Science degree in pharmacy in 1987. She has been
a licensed pharmacist in Iowa since 1987 and is now also
licensed in Oklahoma. She does not, however, have a Doctor of
Pharmacy degree [(Pharm. D.), which is currently required to
Two sons were born to the marriage, both now adults. . . .
Cheryl describes her health as excellent. Joel is in
relatively good health, but he testified that he is taking
medication for anxiety, depression, and hyperlipidemia. He
believes these conditions may be related to stress associated
with his current employment and the dissolution of the
A basic understanding of the practice of neonatology is
necessary to contextualize Joel's contentions.
Neonatology is the care of critically ill newborns. By
necessity it is hospital-based. Neonatologists cover
deliveries as necessary and neonatal intensive care units
[NICU's]. Critically ill newborns require round-the-clock
care. Neonatologists thus work night and weekend shifts. Some
neonatologists are employed by a hospital and are paid a
salary, as at Blank, and some neonatologists, such as those
at Newborn Specialties, contract with hospitals to provide
neonatology services privately and are paid on a
Four neonatologists served Blank when Joel originally began
working there. This number eventually increased to seven.
Night, weekend, and day shifts were divided evenly among the
physicians. According to Joel, he would work [forty] to
[fifty] hours per week, although Cheryl testified that she
recalled Joel working substantially more hours while at
Blank. He received five weeks of vacation and other benefits.
During the 2005-2006 timeframe, Joel was contacted by Newborn
Specialties, a neonatology group in Tulsa, about relocating
and joining that practice. Joel and Cheryl traveled to Tulsa,
but ultimately decided to remain in Des Moines for personal
and family reasons, including the fact that their sons were
in private school and they did not wish to relocate them to
Joel was recruited by this group again in 2013. The original
group was splitting, and several of the physicians were
intending to remain in private practice and serve two area
hospitals. They required the services of one or more
additional neonatologists to provide adequate coverage.
Until this time, Joel and Cheryl had not planned to leave the
Des Moines area. Joel testified that he would
"probably" have worked at Blank until his
mid-[sixties]. But by 2013, both [sons] had graduated from
high school. Joel recognized that the work hours in Tulsa
would be substantially greater than at Blank, but he also
realized that he would earn substantially more income. Joel
and Cheryl discussed the benefits of accepting the Newborn
Specialties position and moving to Tulsa. By doing so, they
anticipated that Joel's income would increase
substantially, but in turn his retirement date would be
accelerated. They ultimately decided to make this move.
Joel moved to Tulsa in March of 2013. Cheryl remained in this
area at least in part to sell their home in Norwalk where
they had lived for [fifteen] years. That house was ultimately
sold in July of 2014 for $420, 000.
According to Cheryl, in May of 2014, [the couple experienced
a breach of trust]. They discussed conditions that Cheryl
imposed in order "to restore the trust in the marriage
and to prove to [Cheryl] that [Joel] was committed to [the]
marriage." As a result, Cheryl decided not to move to
Tulsa but to remain in Iowa. Cheryl filed the petition to
dissolve the marriage in May of 2015 when she learned that
Joel was involved in a relationship in Tulsa.
The district court also examined the earnings history of the
According to Joel's social security earnings statement,
his income at Blank increased from $183, 125 in 1994 to $293,
676 in 2012. His gross income from 2008-2012, his last five
years at Blank, averaged $300, 204. Substantial contributions
were made into Joel's 401(k) account during this time.
Joel bought a [twenty percent] interest in Newborn
Specialties for $150, 000 in 2013. This buy-in was financed
with a seller note which provided that $30, 000 per year
would be forgiven. This constitutes reportable income but
does not constitute disposable income.
Joel originally agreed to a $350, 000 salary at Newborn
Specialists plus his proportionate share of profits. This
base salary was incrementally increased to its current level
of $500, 000. His gross earnings in 2013, the year he moved
from Blank to Newborn Specialists, totaled $608, 811. His
earned income in 2014, his first full year with Newborn
Specialists, was $677, 531 and $529, 771 in 2015. These
amounts include the annual $30, 000 of debt forgiveness, but
do not include rental income of $51, 157 in 2014 and $34, 053
in 2015. They also exclude $23, 000-$24, 000 of [yearly]
contributions to Joel's retirement account. Joel's
current income is based upon the $500, 000 salary plus
periodic profit distributions.
Joel's compensation package includes [a] full panoply of
benefits, including family medical insurance, life insurance,
a retirement plan with employer contributions, disability
insurance, a continuing education allowance, and
reimbursement for medical licensure fees. Joel testified that
it is not foreseeable that the practice will "slow
down" in the near future. Though income may be affected
by such variables as Medicaid reimbursement rates, those
changes are by their nature unforeseeable. It is probable
that Joel's income will remain stable or will increase
over at least the next five to six years, and his annual
income from all sources will exceed $600, 000.
Joel asserts that his increase in income comes at a cost. He
is currently working longer hours with less time off than he
had at Blank. He testified that he does not believe that he
will be physically or mentally capable of maintaining his
current work schedule and demands beyond the age of
[sixty-one] or [sixty-two]. He testified that he would likely
pursue a different career path or retire at that time.
Joel's testimony regarding his retirement plans was quite
clearly affected, not only by the stress of the practice, but
also by the stress of this proceeding. Any number of factors
will ultimately affect Joel's decision to retire or make
a significant career change. For example, the practice could
restructure to lessen the burden on the doctors. (The
practice is currently hiring more doctors.) Joel may make
another career move with unforeseeable financial
consequences. All that can be reasonably forecast at this
juncture is that Joel's annual income will remain in
excess of $600, 000 for the next [six] or [seven] years, and
that he may reduce his workload by age [sixty-two]. His most
likely retirement date based upon this record is
[sixty-seven], his social security full retirement age.
regard to Cheryl's employment and earnings history the
district court observed:
From 1987 until 1990 Cheryl worked full-time at Mercy
Hospital in Des Moines, and she continued working full-time
after [their first son] was born and until the family moved
She worked at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston from
1990-1993 while Joel pursued his neonatology fellowship.
After [the younger son] was born in 1992, Cheryl left the
work force and earned no income for the years 1993-1995. She
returned to work part-time for Medicap in 1996 when [the
younger child] began preschool. She worked for Dahl's
part-time from 2007-2014. She left that employment in
anticipation of the move to Tulsa. Dahl's went out of
business, and she accepted a position as an on-call
pharmacist for Target in late 2014. She worked there for
approximately one year. She then took a part-time position
with DGS Foods, LLC, under its trade names of Price Chopper
and Cash Saver, primarily to secure more consistent hours and
Cheryl is working approximately [thirty] hours per week,
including every other weekend, earning $48.25 per hour. She
receives no benefits. She is entitled to participate in the
company's 401(k) retirement plan, but she is not entitled
to an employer contribution. Health insurance, and perhaps
other benefits, may be available to her if she works more
than [thirty-two] hours per week, but her ability to increase
her hours is speculative.
From 1984, the year the parties were married, until 2006,
Cheryl's highest annual income was $30, 283. During that
timeframe, she earned in excess of $30, 000 in only two of
those years-1988 and 1989. Her income at Dahl's from
2010-2013 ranged from $44, 674 to $73, 277.
Cheryl testified that she could earn $90, 000 to $100, 000
per year if she could find full-time employment working
[forty-two]- [forty-four] hours per week. Cheryl has applied
for full[-]time pharmacy positions in the Des Moines area but
has not been successful. Her employability is limited to some
extent by modification of entry-level education requirements
or expectations for pharmacists [(a Pharm. D.)]. Though
Cheryl has a valid pharmacist license in Iowa, her education
is less than that required of more recent pharmacy graduates
. . . . Her ability to find full-time employment is also
limited, in her opinion, by her age.
Cheryl's current plan is to stay at her present position.
She admitted that this decision is in part based upon
personal considerations. She prefers to retain some
flexibility to travel and see her sons.
Based upon Cheryl's age, education, experience, and
health, it is reasonable to conclude that her earning
capacity is $75, 000 per year.
was also entrusted with many responsibilities of the family
and home. The district court noted, "As a result of
Joel's schedule, Cheryl was also primarily responsible
for managing the household and caring for the children
throughout the marriage. She was responsible for everything
from managing the family finances, getting the boys to
school, overseeing homework, shopping, laundry, cooking and
parties also presented evidence of their standard of living
during their ...