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In re Marriage of Barrett

Court of Appeals of Iowa

February 7, 2018

IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF DIRK STERLING BARRETT AND JAIME JO BARRETT Upon the Petition of DIRK STERLING BARRETT, Petitioner-Appellant, And Concerning JAIME JO BARRETT, n/k/a JAIME JO REITER, Respondent-Appellee.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Mary Pat Gunderson, Judge.

         Dirk Sterling Barrett appeals various provisions of the district court's decree dissolving his marriage to Jaime Jo Barrett.

          Dorothy L. Dakin of Kruse & Dakin, L.L.P., Boone, for appellant.

          Matthew T. E. Early of Fitzgibbons Law Firm, L.L.C., Estherville, for appellee.

          Considered by Vogel, P.J., and Tabor and Bower, JJ.

          BOWER, Judge.

         Dirk Sterling Barrett appeals various provisions of the district court's decree dissolving his marriage to Jaime Jo Barrett. With the exception of the distribution of some premarital items and a minor change to visitation and child support, the district court ruling is affirmed as modified.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         Dirk and Jaime were married in November 2008. The couple have one child, S.P.B., born in 2010. Jaime had another child from a previous relationship who was approximately sixteen years old and lived with the parties. During the marriage there were several incidents of violent or angry outbursts from Dirk. The district court also noted Jaime testified Dirk often threated to take S.P.B. if she did not "comply with his wishes."

         On April, 26, 2016, after learning they would likely lose their home, the parties began arguing. The parties offer starkly contrasting versions of the event. Dirk testified they argued, and Jaime said she wanted a divorce. Dirk began to make dinner but Jaime, yelling and screaming at him, tripped and fell. He picked her up and guided her to the door, Jaime bit him, and he continued to guide her downstairs. He admitted he may have lightly punched her on the back during the events but denied he took her wallet or cell phone.

         Jaime testified the parties began to argue and Dirk threw objects at her. She started videotaping his behavior with her cell phone. Dirk took the cell phone, and began to choke and punch her. He threw her onto the couch, pressed his forearm across her throat, and Jaime bit him. Dirk released her, and she ran to the neighbors' house to call the police.

         Ankeny police arrived on the scene. Dirk refused the officers entry into the house. The officers asked Dirk if S.P.B. was the parties' child, and Dirk responded, "He's mine now." When the officers noticed Dirk was wearing an empty holster, he was patted down to ensure officer safety. Dirk told the officers he had removed the lug nuts from the parties' vehicles so Jaime could not leave with the children. The officers also found Jaime's wallet and cell phone on the floor of the living room. Dirk was arrested, and a criminal no-contact order was issued.

         After the incident, Jaime moved from Ankeny to Estherville, started working as a nurse, and enrolled the children in school. After the parties physically separated, Jaime took items from the house, the exact number and description are contested by Dirk. Jaime claims she only took her bed, beds for the children, dressers for the children, two TV sets, her craft items, some cooking equipment, a few guns, and a push lawnmower. Dirk claims she took additional items, including heirlooms, guns she claims she does not possess, and furniture the parties owe a joint debt on.

         During a custody exchange, Jaime requested officers from Webster City be present and informed them of the no-contact order. Dirk and his father were anything but mature adults at the time of the exchange. S.P.B. should not have been exposed to this behavior.

         Dirk filed a petition for dissolution on May 13, 2016. Trial was held February 6 and 7, 2017. On February 17, the district court issued a decree of dissolution granting the parties joint legal custody of S.P.B., granting physical care to Jaime, providing visitation to Dirk, requiring Dirk to pay child support, and dividing debts and property. No alimony was awarded. Dirk filed a notice of appeal March 17.

         II. Standard of Review

         Equitable actions are reviewed de novo. Iowa R. App. P. 6.907. We examine the record and adjudicate the rights of the parties anew. In re Marriage of Williams, 589 N.W.2d 759, 761 (Iowa Ct. App. 1998). Because the district court is in a unique position to hear the evidence, we defer to the district court's determinations of credibility. In re Marriage of Brown, 487 N.W.2d 331, 332 (Iowa 1992). While our review is de novo, the district court is given latitude to make determinations, which we will disturb only if equity has not been done. In re Marriage of Okland, 699 N.W.2d 260, 263 (Iowa 2005).

         III. Property Division

         Dirk claims the district court awarded Dirk's premarital property, including heirlooms and firearms, to Jaime, inequitably assigned debt to Dirk, and created an inequitable balance in the value of the property awards. Dirk and Jaime presented conflicting evidence regarding the amount of household property taken by Jaime when she left the marital home.

         a. Heirlooms, Gifts, and Inheritance

         Dirk claims the district court should have awarded him all seven of the items he describes as heirlooms, as they are inherited and gifted property, instead of the four items the district court ordered returned. Inherited property "is not subject to a property division under this section except upon a finding that refusal to divide the property is inequitable to the other party or to the children of the marriage." Iowa Code ...


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