from the Iowa District Court for Winneshiek County, Margaret
L. Lingreen, Judge.
former husband appeals the denial of his petition to modify
the alimony award in his dissolution decree, alleging a
substantial change in circumstances and contending his former
wife has entered a common law marriage.
E. Schoeberl of Story Schoeberl & Seebach, LLP, Cresco,
B. Anderson, Cresco, for appellee.
by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Potterfield and Tabor, JJ.
to eliminate or reduce his spousal support obligation, David
Wolfs contends circumstances have changed since the entry of
the decree dissolving his long-time marriage to Linda Wolfs.
First, he alleges Linda remarried by common law. Second, he
claims his own health and earning capacity have worsened
while Linda's health and financial prospects have
improved. David appeals the district court's denial of
his request for modification and its conclusion Linda did not
enter a common law marriage.
the record shows Linda did not have the intent to remarry nor
did she declare publicly she had remarried, David cannot
prove a new marriage under common law. We affirm the district
court on that basis. But because Linda has been continuously
cohabitating with her new paramour and receives considerable
financial assistance from him, we find a substantial change
in circumstances and modify the district court's decision
by reducing David's alimony payments.
Facts and Prior Proceedings
now, in his late sixties, David's military service in
Vietnam comes back to haunt him. His war wounds left him with
posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and cardiovascular
maladies linked to Agent Orange. After leaving the Army, he
married Linda in April 1974. Just shy of thirty-seven years
later, and after raising six children, they divorced in
February 2011. At the time of the divorce, Linda was
fifty-seven years old and not in good health; David was
sixty-one years old. The divorce decree directed David to pay
$750 per month in "traditional" spousal
support until Linda died or remarried.
2012, Linda moved in with Christopher Hick, and they have
lived together continuously since then. Christopher bought
the house where they live and deeded an interest in the
property to Linda in joint tenancy with full rights of
survivorship. In October 2012, Linda and Christopher invited
family and friends to a ceremony they described as a
"celebration of love." Linda's grown sons
walked her down the aisle, and her granddaughter was the
flower girl. While they did not have an officiant, Linda and
Christopher did exchange vows and rings. The event was also
announced in the local newspaper and on Facebook.
2016, David filed a petition for modification, alleging
"a substantial and material change in circumstances to
either modify or terminate the spousal support previously
ordered." The petition contended Linda had entered a
common law marriage. The petition also alleged David's
health and financial circumstances had declined since entry
of the decree. The district court denied the modification
petition. The court found David did not prove the existence
of a common law marriage between Linda and Christopher and
did not show any other "substantial change in
circumstances warranting modification of [David's]
spousal support obligation owing to [Linda]." David
appeals those findings.
Scope and Standards of Review
to modify the spousal support provisions of a divorce decree
lie in equity. See In re Marriage of Hoffman, 867
N.W.2d 26, 32 (Iowa 2015). So our review is de novo.
Id.; see Iowa R. App. P. 6.907. We likewise
review claims of a common law marriage de novo. In re
Marriage of Martin, 681 N.W.2d 612, 616 (Iowa 2004).
"To overturn a trial court's decision on attorney
fees the complaining party must show" an ...