IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF STACY HERUM AND SCOTT HERUM Upon the Petition of STACY HERUM, n/k/a STACY ZUMBACH, Petitioner-Appellee, And Concerning SCOTT HERUM, Respondent-Appellant.
from the Iowa District Court for Emmet County, Nancy L.
Herum appeals the district court decision partially granting
and partially denying his petition to modify a dissolution
Christine B. Skilton of Cronin, Skilton & Skilton,
P.L.L.C., Charles City, for appellant.
J. Parrish of Miller, Pearson, Gloe, Burns, Beatty &
Parrish, P.L.C., Decorah, for appellee.
Considered by Doyle, P.J., and Tabor and McDonald, JJ.
Herum asked the district court to modify the alimony,
physical-care, and child-support provisions of the decree
dissolving his marriage to Stacy Zumbach. Scott's
modification petition cited the declining farm economy,
Stacy's new romantic relationship, and the couple's
eldest son moving in with Scott as material changes since
entry of the decree. The court partially granted Scott's
petition but on appeal he contends the court committed
several errors. Because Scott did not establish any basis for
further modification, we affirm.
FACTS AND PRIOR PROCEEDINGS
and Stacy had a fifteen-year marriage during which they had
three children: a son D.H., born in 1998, a daughter Em.H.,
born in 2001, and a son Et.H., born in 2005. Also during
their marriage, Scott and Stacy built and ran a large family
farm comprising several thousand acres of land. At the time
of the dissolution in 2012, they filed a joint stipulation
and property settlement which the court approved and wholly
incorporated into the decree. The record contains very
limited information regarding the parties' finances
before dissolution. Part of the purpose of the stipulated
decree, according to the parties, was to keep financial
information private. The parties did file a joint
agricultural balance sheet showing they had a net worth of
around $5.9 million dollars. But, the stipulation and
subsequent agricultural balance sheet show Stacy received
only around $1.3 million dollars worth of property in the
dissolution. In addition, Scott agreed to pay Stacy monthly
$3000 in child support and $2500 in alimony. The parties had
joint custody, but Stacy had physical care with reasonable
and liberal visitation to Scott. Neither party appealed the
2015, Scott filed a petition for modification, alleging
several substantial changes in circumstances. Since the
decree, the couple's eldest son, D.H., had moved in with
Scott; Scott therefore asked for a transfer of physical care
and a reduction in his child support obligation. The farm
economy had taken a downturn, and Scott asserted he was
unable to continue making alimony payments. Also, Scott
alleged Stacy was cohabiting with her boyfriend, Dennis
Tobin, and therefore alimony should be terminated. He also
asserted Stacy's relationship with Dennis was creating a
poor environment in Stacy's home such that Scott should
be given more time with the children.
stipulated before the modification hearings that physical
care of D.H. should be transferred to Scott. The district
court agreed and, finding D.H. had completed high school
during the pendency of the modification, reduced Scott's
child support obligation to $2200 per month, as set out in
the decree. With respect to alimony, the district court found
the support award was actually part of the property division
and was therefore non-modifiable. In addition, the court
found Scott did not meet the burden to show the custody
arrangements of the two younger children should be disturbed.
appeal, Scott contends (1) the district court erred in
finding the alimony award was a part of the property division
and therefore unmodifiable; (2) the court should have
increased his parenting time; (3) the court erred in not
complying with the child support guidelines under Iowa Court
Rule 9.11 and should have reduced his child support
obligation due to a substantial change in circumstances;
Scott also asserts the court should have awarded him
retroactive reimbursement of child support paid; and (4) the
court's delay in issuing the modification decision
constituted an abuse of discretion and violated Iowa Court
Rule 22.10. Both parties request attorney fees.
LEGAL STANDARDS AND SCOPE OF REVIEW
all the following issues lie in equity, we review the
modification de novo. In re Marriage of Pals, 714
N.W.2d 644, 646 (Iowa 2006). While we are not bound by the
fact-findings of the district court, we accord them weight,
especially as to credibility determinations. In re
Marriage of Dean, 642 N.W.2d 321, 323 (Iowa Ct. App.
petitioned to modify the alimony award based on a substantial
change in circumstances: his reduced farm income and
Stacy's alleged cohabitation with her boyfriend. The
district court denied Scott's request to terminate his
alimony obligation. On appeal, Scott argues it was error for
the court to "modify the decree from the award of
traditional alimony to a property settlement." But the
district court did not modify the decree. Instead, it found
Stacy's alimony constituted a property award that-based
on the parties' own stipulation-was not subject to
modification. On our de novo review of the record, we
disagree with the district court's reasoning but reach
the same result.
Iowa law, marital property should be divided equitably
between the parties. See Iowa Code § 598.21
(2015). An equitable division is not always strictly equal.
In re Marriage of Hansen, 886 N.W.2d 868, 871 (Iowa
Ct. App. 2016). Here, Scott and Stacy agreed that from their
$5.9 million estate Stacy would take property equaling only
$1.3 million. Scott agreed to pay child support of $3000 per
month with reductions when the children turned eighteen or
graduated from high school. Scott also agreed to pay Stacy
$2500 per month in alimony "until Stacy attains the age
of sixty-five (65) years, dies, or remarries, whichever first
occurs." Scott would maintain life insurance coverage
with Stacy as the primary beneficiary for $500, 000 in the
event of his untimely death before any of the terminating
events. Scott and Stacy further agreed, "Neither the
amount nor the term of the alimony shall be modified."
stipulation is a contract between the parties. In re
Marriage of Morris, 810 N.W.2d 880, 886 (Iowa 2012).
But, the stipulation
is not binding on the court, as the court has the
responsibility to determine whether the provisions upon which
the parties have agreed constitute an appropriate and legally
approved method of disposing of the contested issues . . . .
[T]he court has the authority to reject the stipulation.
Consequently, once the court enters a decree adopting the
stipulation, the decree, not the stipulation, determines what
rights the parties have . . . . [I]n ascertaining the rights
of the parties after final judgment, it is the intent of the
district court that is relevant, not the intent of the
Id. (internal quotations and citations omitted). In
other words, a decree should not be affirmed just because the
parties agreed to the stipulation providing the basis for the
court's decisions. See In re Marriage of Jones,
653 N.W.2d 589, 593-94. On review,
[a] judgment or decree is to be construed like any other
written instrument. The determinative factor is the intention
of the court as gathered from all parts of the judgment.
Effect must be given to that which is clearly implied as well
as that which is expressed. In construing a judgment, force
and effect should be given every word, if possible, to give
the judgment as a whole a consistent, effective and
In re Marriage of Lawson, 409 N.W.2d 181, 182-83
(Iowa 1987) (internal quotations and citations
omitted). A husband and wife "may arrange
between themselves for the disposition of their property
interests . . . and effect will be given by the court to a
stipulation, if entered into in good faith and the provisions
thereof are found to be fair and reasonable."
Slattery v. Slattery, 116 N.W. 608, 609 (Iowa 1908).
the decree court found the stipulation was "fair and
equitable and should be incorporated as part of this Decree .
. . in its entirety, the same as though fully set forth
herein." The decree court also stated, "The
property rights of the parties, as well as their rights,
privileges, and obligations as parents, shall be governed by
the terms and conditions therein contained, " including
all the provisions set out above. Neither party appealed the
original decree. In this appeal, neither party has asserted
that any provision of the ...