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Heims v. Heims

Court of Appeals of Iowa

May 2, 2018

LYNETTE ANNE HEIMS, Petitioner-Appellant,
BRAD FRANCIS HEIMS, Respondent-Appellee.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Dubuque County, Thomas A. Bitter, Judge.

         Former spouse appeals the district court's denial of her application for contempt.

          Jenny L. Weiss of Fuerste, Carew, Juergens & Sudmeier, P.C., Dubuque, for appellant.

          Darin S. Harmon and Nina K. Sheller of Kintzinger, Harmon, Konrardy, P.L.C., Dubuque, for appellee.

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

          VOGEL, Presiding Judge.

         Lynette Heims appeals from the district court's denial of her application for rule to show cause. She argues Brad Heims should be held in contempt for failing to pay spousal support, in violation of their marital settlement agreement, which was incorporated into their Illinois "Judgment for Dissolution of Marriage." We conclude the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding Lynette did not prove Brad engaged in willful disobedience of his obligation to pay spousal support, nor did it abuse its discretion in declining to order Brad to pay Lynette's attorney fees. Therefore, we affirm. We also decline to order Brad to pay Lynette's appellate attorney fees.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         On February 13, 2014, the marriage of Brad and Lynette Heims was dissolved in Illinois. At that time, the parties entered into a marital settlement agreement, under which Brad agreed to pay "Maintenance (Alimony)" to Lynette in the amount of $160.28 per week "for a period of not less than three (3) years from the date of entry of this Marital Settlement Agreement."[1] On August 21, 2015, the parties registered their dissolution of marriage decree, including the incorporated marital settlement agreement, in Iowa. On December 12, 2016, Brad filed a petition to modify in Iowa, seeking to terminate his spousal support obligation upon completion of the third year, as permitted under the marital settlement agreement.[2]

         The Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services ("DHFS") administered the couple's child support and spousal support payments by withholding amounts from Brad's paychecks. On February 13, 2017, DHFS stopped withholding spousal support from Brad's paychecks, but it continued withholding child support. Lynette does not know why DHFS stopped withholding spousal support. Brad testified he did not do anything affirmative to stop the withholding, and Lynette does not accuse him of any such actions. Brad believes DHFS simply interpreted the marital settlement agreement to end the spousal support payments after exactly three years and acted without consultation with either party. On March 4, DHFS began withholding an additional $160.28 from Brad's paycheck, but it credited this amount to past-due child support and not spousal support. On March 31, DHFS stopped withholding the $160.28 from Brad's paycheck. On April 28, DHFS resumed withholding the $160.28 from Brad's paychecks for spousal support.

         The parties scheduled mediation for March 10, 2017, though they cancelled when the mediator did not attend due to a conflict. At this time, Lynette testified she asked Brad to pay spousal support directly to her while DHFS was not correctly withholding, but Brad refused. On April 21, the parties discussed spousal support in mediation, but this mediation failed. On April 25, Lynette filed this application for rule to show cause, seeking to hold Brad in contempt for failure to pay spousal support. On May 1, Brad personally went to the DHFS office to straighten out the withholding issues and make a lump-sum payment for spousal support. He testified he took a day off from work in Chicago, Illinois, to travel to the DHFS office in Rockford, Illinois. He paid $1, 475.12, which he testified is the amount of arrearage DHFS calculated.

         After a hearing, the district court issued an order declining to find Brad in contempt. The district court also rejected Lynette's request for attorney fees. Lynette appeals the district court's order on contempt and her attorney fees, and she requests appellate attorney fees.

         II. Standard of Review

         Contempt actions are governed by Iowa Code section 598.23 ("If a person against whom a temporary order or final decree has been entered willfully disobeys the order or decree, the person may be cited and punished by the court for contempt . . . ."). We review contempt decisions for abuse of discretion. Ary v. Iowa Dist. Ct., 735 N.W.2d 621, 624 (Iowa 2007) (citing Ickowitz v. Iowa Dist. Ct., 452 N.W.2d 446, 452 (Iowa 1990)). The district court may consider all circumstances in deciding whether to impose punishment for contempt. In re Marriage of Swan, 526 N.W.2d 320, 327 (Iowa 1995). We review decisions on attorney ...

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