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In re Marriage of Lockard

Court of Appeals of Iowa

March 21, 2018

IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF JOHN R. LOCKARD AND LAURA L. LOCKARD Upon the Petition of JOHN R. LOCKARD, Petitioner-Appellant/Cross-Appellee, And Concerning LAURA L. LOCKARD, Respondent-Appellee/Cross-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Dallas County, Paul R. Huscher, Judge.

         John Lockard appeals and Laura Lockard cross-appeals a district court ruling concerning the modification of a dissolution decree.

          John R. Lockard, Urbandale, pro se appellant.

          Todd A. Elverson and Nathan A. Russell of Elverson, Vasey, Wiedenfeld & Abbott, L.L.P., Des Moines, for appellee.

          Considered by Danilson, C.J., and Doyle and Mullins, JJ.

          MULLINS, Judge.

         John Lockard appeals the district court's ruling on his petition for modification of a dissolution decree. He contends (1) the district court incorrectly calculated his income, (2) the court erred in calculating his modified spousal- and child-support obligations, and (3) the court abused its discretion in declining to award him attorney fees.[1]

         Laura Lockard cross-appeals the same ruling. She argues the district court erred in (1) finding a decrease in John's earning capacity and therefore reducing his spousal- and child-support obligations, (2) excluding certain exhibits at trial, (3) removing from the decree requirements that John be current on his spousal-support obligation in order to claim any of the children on his taxes and that he secure his spousal-support obligation with life insurance, and (4) declining to award her attorney fees. She requests an award of appellate attorney fees.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings[2]

         On John's appeal from the original dissolution of marriage decree, [3] we made the following findings:

John and Laura were married in July 1983. They are the parents of four children: N.L., born in 1992, M.L., born in 1996, K.L., born in 2000, and J.L., born in 2003.
John is fifty-one years old and in good health. He earned both a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in computer engineering during the marriage. John worked as a teacher's assistant during graduate school. The parties lived together in a house owned by John's mother while John was in school. After John completed his master's degree, the parties moved to Chicago for John's job. The parties had their first child in 1992 and returned to Des Moines shortly thereafter. John later left his employment to start his own company, Silicon Plains Technologies. Thereafter, John negotiated a buy-out with his business partner. As part of the buy-out, John received $10, 000 per month for twenty-four months and signed a twenty-four-month non-compete agreement. Instead of gaining employment in another field, John began day-trading for the next eighteen months. John did not succeed in this capacity and the parties withdrew funds from a 401(k) account to pay for expenses after John was not fully paid under the buy-out agreement. The parties also faced litigation stemming from debt incurred by John's ex-business partner and filed bankruptcy as a result. John is currently employed as a computer consultant by a company in Colorado and works from home with minimal travel.
Laura is fifty years old. She has an accounting degree and a CPA certificate, both earned during the marriage. Laura worked full time while John was in graduate school and while working toward her CPA. Laura continued to work full time until the birth of their first child. Thereafter, she assumed the role of caretaker for the parties' children. Over the next twenty-two years Laura worked a few part-time jobs, as an accountant for Silicon Plains, an office manager for a dance and gymnastic studio in order to receive a discount on the children's tuition, and helping with the books at the horse stable where the children's horses were kept to decrease boarding charges. In May 2001, Laura suffered a severe stroke. As a result of the stroke, Laura has a permanent "significant disability" and does not have the use of her right arm and wears a brace on her right leg. Because of her disability, she has poor keyboard and ten-key skills. In 2012-2013, Laura took classes to reinstate her CPA certificate but has been unable to find full-time employment. She currently works as a part-time accountant preparing tax returns.
On November 7, 2013, John filed a petition for dissolution of marriage. . . . [On October 7, 2014], the district court entered a decree dissolving their marriage. The court awarded the parties joint legal and physical custody of their three minor children.[4] The court found John earns an average gross annual income of $114, 564.25[5] and Laura a gross annual income of $12, 589.71. It ordered John to pay $513.47 each month to Laura for support of their three minor children, $433.87 per month in support for two children, [6] and $284.43 per month in support for one child.[7] The court also ordered John to pay Laura permanent spousal support in the amount of $3000 per month until either party's death or Laura's remarriage. The court awarded John the marital home valued at $183, 000 and ordered John to pay Laura $7948 for her share of the home's $15, 896 in equity. The court further ordered John to maintain $200, 000 in life insurance, naming Laura as the beneficiary, to secure his child and spousal support obligations.
Additionally, the court ordered John to pay $5000 toward Laura's attorney fees.

Lockard, 2016 WL 146547, at *1-2. In January 2016, we affirmed the foregoing provisions of the decree with the exception of the child-support provision, which we modified and remanded to the district court for the entry of an order consistent with our ruling. Id. at *6.

         On March 7, 2016, John was notified he would be laid off from the job he held at the time of the original decree. His last day of employment was March 11 and he received his final paycheck on March 31. John testified at the modification hearing that in the six months preceding his layoff, his pay was reduced by twenty percent as a result of a discontinuance of his monthly bonuses. The record reveals, however, that John's bonuses were not discontinued until January 2016. On April 12, less than two weeks after John received his final paycheck, he filed a petition to modify the child- and spousal-support provisions of the dissolution decree. In his petition, John alleged his recent layoff and subsequent inability to find work in his "field of expertise" amounted to a change in circumstances warranting modification.

         In May, John was found in contempt of court on four counts for willfully violating the decree by failing to (1) provide Laura her equitable share of the marital home, (2) pay attorney fees ordered in the underlying dissolution action in the district court and on appeal, and (3) pay his share of the custody evaluation conducted before trial.

         A trial on John's modification petition was held in April 2017. The court found John's loss of employment in March 2016 "was not a voluntary reduction in income, and was not done with the intent to avoid or reduce a support obligation." The court concluded John, at the time of trial, was employed making $62, 400 per year and Laura $37, 600. The court reduced John's monthly spousal-support obligation to $750 and modified a number of other provisions concerning John's spousal- and child-support obligations. The court ordered both parties to pay their own attorney fees. The court denied both ...


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