IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF GEORGE G. MRLA, JR. AND ANGELA M. MRLA Upon the Petition of GEORGE G. MRLA, JR., Petitioner-Appellee, And Concerning ANGELA M. MRLA, Respondent-Appellant.
from the Iowa District Court for Woodbury County, Edward A.
from the property division provisions of a decree of
Scott Rhinehart of Rhinehart Law, P.C., Sioux City, for
C. Tolsma and James W. Redmond of Heidman Law Firm, P.L.L.C.,
Sioux City, for appellee.
Considered by Doyle, P.J., and Tabor and McDonald, JJ.
case arises out of the dissolution of four-year marriage
between Angela and George Mrla. On appeal, Angela challenges
the district court's division of the parties'
property, contending the district court failed to equitably
divide the property. She also seeks trial and appellate
attorney fees. We review dissolution of marriage proceedings
de novo. See In re Marriage of Kimbro, 826 N.W.2d
696, 698 (Iowa 2013).
trial record shows Angela and George married in 2011. Prior
to that time, they cohabited along with Angela's two
children. During the marriage, George farmed his own land and
worked as a self-employed truck driver, a business he started
shortly after the parties married. Angela and George
separated in 2015. At trial, the parties identified over one
million dollars in assets and over two-hundred and thirty
thousand dollars in liabilities at issue. In particular, the
parties contested whether and to what extent Angela was
involved in the startup and operation of George's
trucking business and whether the business was property
subject to division. The district court received the
parties' evidence and nominally divided the parties'
property. Angela filed a motion to enlarge or amend the
decree. In her motion, Angela contended the district court
failed to identify many of the assets and liabilities, failed
to value the parties' assets and liabilities, and failed
to divide all of the property at issue. The district court
denied the motion, and Angela timely filed this appeal.
decree is fatally flawed and incapable of meaningful
appellate review. De novo review is distinct from trial de
novo. See In re Marriage of Huston, 263 N.W.2d 697,
699 (Iowa 1978). "[T]his is a court of review, without
original jurisdiction to 'retry' dissolution
proceedings." Id. It is the district court that
must make an initial determination of the disputed factual
issues. See In re Marriage of Keener, 728 N.W.2d
188, 193 (Iowa 2007). "Before dividing the marital
property, a court must identify all of the assets held in the
name of either or both parties as well as the debts owed by
either or both of them. The assets should then be given their
value as of the date of trial. The purpose of determining the
value is to assist the court in making equitable property
awards and allowances." Id. We will generally
defer to the district court's determinations of property
value so long as they are within the range of evidence
presented at trial. See In re Marriage of Hansen,
733 N.W.2d 683, 703 (Iowa 2006). The district court should
then equitably divide the property.
the district court did not make a determination regarding the
disputed factual issues. At trial, the parties identified
numerous contested assets and liabilities. The decree does
not identify all of the parties' assets and liabilities.
The parties submitted extensive evidence regarding the value
of the parties' property, including their affidavits of
financial status and expert testimony regarding the value of
George's trucking business. The district court failed to
value any of the parties' property, stating, "It is
difficult or impossible to place a value on any of the assets
listed on the parties' financial statements." The
mere fact that the parties contested the value of certain
property does not render it impossible to find a value based
on the evidence. The district court then nominally divided
the property without valuing any of it and without
determining whether any equalization payment was required. We
say "nominally divided" because it does not appear
the district court actually divided all of the property at
the circumstances, we cannot exercise appellate review over
the property division. We thus vacate the property division
in the decree and remand this matter to the district court to
identify the parties' property subject to division, to
determine a value for all of the property based on the
evidence admitted at trial, and to equitably divide the
property. See In re Marriage of Locke, 246 N.W.2d
246, 254 (Iowa 1976) (remanding because "it is not
possible to determine what factors the trial court considered
in arriving at a property division" which made it
impossible to "assess the trial court's
determination let alone any wrongs therein."); see
also In re Marriage of Kinser, No. 11-0169, 2012 WL
3194088, at *3 (Iowa Ct. App., Aug. 8, 2012) (remanding for
an item-by-item assessment of the value of marital assets and
debts). We do not retain jurisdiction.
also contends the district court abused its discretion in
denying her claim for trial attorney fees. See
Kimbro, 826 N.W.2d at 698. "The court has
considerable discretion in awarding attorney fees."
In re Marriage of Schenkelberg, 824 N.W.2d 481, 488
(Iowa 2012). This includes expert fees. See id.
Angela argues the district court erred in failing to award
her trial attorney and expert fees because it "ignored
the expert testimony . . . and failed to consider the
extensive attorney fees based upon the extensive efforts
Appellant had to go through to complete discovery." The
district court concluded each party would pay their own fees.
We cannot say this was unreasonable given the trial testimony
about expenses and the district court's full knowledge of
the discovery proceedings in this case. We find there was no
abuse of discretion.
we address appellate attorney fees. Both parties request they
be awarded their legal fees on appeal. "Appellate
attorney fees are not a matter of right, but rather rest in
this court's discretion. In determining whether to award
appellate attorney fees, we consider the needs of the party
seeking the award, the ability of the other party to pay, and
the relative merits of the appeal." In re Marriage
of McDermott, 827 N.W.2d 671, 687 (Iowa 2013). After
considering the parties' financial circumstances, we find
equity warrants an award of appellate attorney fees to Angela
in the amount of $7125.