IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF JODI LYNN ERPELDING AND TIMOTHY JOHN ERPELDING Upon the Petition of JODI LYNN ERPELDING, Appellant, And Concerning TIMOTHY JOHN ERPELDING, Appellee.
review from the Iowa Court of Appeals.
from the Iowa District Court for Kossuth County, Patrick M.
review applicant challenges court of appeals decision
reversing district court's denial of request for attorney
fees based on waiver of attorney fees in parties'
W. Lipps of Peterson & Lipps Law Firm, Algona, for
Matthew G. Sease and Christopher R. Kemp of Kemp & Sease,
Des Moines, for appellee.
parties executed a premarital agreement waiving the right to
seek an award of attorney fees in the event of a dissolution
of their marriage. During their subsequent dissolution
proceeding, the parties litigated issues pertaining to
physical custody of the two minor children, child support,
spousal support, and property division. One of the parties
requested an award of attorney fees arising from litigating
issues of child custody, child support, and spousal support,
claiming the premarital-agreement waiver of her claim for
attorney fees was unenforceable because it violates public
policy. The district court's decree decided all of the
contested issues and denied the request for attorney fees,
finding the waiver provision in the premarital agreement was
enforceable. On appeal, the court of appeals reversed on the
attorney fees issue, concluding the waiver provision violates
public policy and is therefore unenforceable to the extent
the attorney fees arise from litigation of child-related
issues. On further review, we affirm the court of appeals
decision on its award of attorney fees for child-related
issues. We vacate the part of the court of appeals decision
regarding attorney fees for spousal support. We affirm the
decision of the court of appeals on all other issues.
Therefore, we remand the case to the district court to
determine the amount, if any, of trial attorney fees and
costs the ex-wife is entitled to for the child custody, child
support, and spousal support issues litigated in the
dissolution matter in the district court. The court should
also determine the amount of appellate attorney fees the
ex-wife is entitled to for the child custody, child support,
and spousal support issues.
Factual and Procedural Background.
Jodi Erpelding married on December 1, 1997, in Las Vegas,
Nevada. Five days before their wedding, the parties executed
a premarital agreement addressing their respective property
rights and interests in the event of dissolution of the
marriage. The agreement generally provided that, in the event
of dissolution, the parties would retain sole ownership of
all assets they brought into the marriage or acquired in
their individual names during the marriage. The agreement
the Parties shall have no other rights to property, interests
in property, property settlement, attorney fees and
expenses upon the filing of a petition requesting legal
separation, divorce, dissolution or other judicial
termination of their marriage, and upon the Court granting
any such petition and thereafter.
eighteen years of marriage, Jodi filed a petition for
dissolution. The parties litigated issues of child custody
and support, spousal support, property division, and attorney
fees. The district court ordered split physical care, placing
one child with each parent, and adjudicated the support and
property issues in a thorough and well-written opinion. The
court declined to award Jodi attorney fees, concluding
"[i]n the absence of any articulated public policy of
the state of Iowa, the Court thinks it does not have
authority to ignore the plain language of the parties'
appealed, Tim cross-appealed, and we transferred the case to
the court of appeals. On appeal, Jodi asserted the Iowa
Uniform Premarital Agreement Act (IUPAA) prohibits
premarital-agreement provisions that waive the right to
attorney fees arising from issues of child custody, child
support, and spousal support because the IUPAA prohibits
premarital agreements from limiting the right to child and
spousal support. The court of appeals reversed the district
court's denial of attorney fees, holding "the
provision in the Erpeldings' premarital agreement waiving
[attorney] fees and costs is void and unenforceable as to
child-related issues because it violates Iowa 'public
policy by discouraging both parents from pursuing litigation
in their child's best interests.'
sought and we granted further review. "When considering
an application for further review, we have discretion to
review all the issues raised on appeal or in the application
for further review or only a portion thereof." In re
Marriage of Mauer, 874 N.W.2d 103, 106 (Iowa 2016);
accord Hills Bank & Tr. Co. v. Converse, 772
N.W.2d 764, 770 (Iowa 2009). We exercise our discretion in
this case to limit our review to the issue of
premarital-agreement waivers of attorney fees concerning
child custody, child support, and spousal support.
Accordingly, the court of appeals decision shall be the final
adjudication on all of the other issues raised by the parties
in this appeal. See In re Marriage of Mauer, 874
N.W.2d at 106.
Scope and Standards of Review.
We review the denial of attorney fees for an abuse of
discretion. We reverse the district court's ruling only
when it rests on grounds that are clearly unreasonable or
untenable. A ruling is clearly unreasonable or untenable when
it is "not supported by substantial evidence or when it
is based on an erroneous application of the law."
In re Marriage of Kimbro, 826 N.W.2d 696, 698-99
(Iowa 2013) (citation omitted) (quoting In re Marriage of
Schenkelberg, 824 N.W.2d 481, 484 (Iowa 2012)). We
review issues involving statutory interpretation for
correction of errors at law. Johnson Propane, Heating
& Cooling, Inc. v. Iowa Dep't of Transp., 891
N.W.2d 220, 224 (Iowa 2017); In re C.F.-H., 889
N.W.2d 201, 203 (Iowa 2016); accord Iowa R. App. P.
Relevant Statutory Provisions.
Iowa law, premarital agreements are subject to the IUPAA,
codified in Iowa Code chapter 596. Iowa Code § 596.12
(2016); In re Marriage of Shanks, 758 N.W.2d 506,
511 (Iowa 2008). Iowa Code section 596.5 regulates the
matters about which parties may contract in a premarital
agreement, and provides in relevant part,
1. Parties to a premarital agreement may contract with
respect to the following:
. . . .
g. Any other matter, including the personal rights
and obligations of the parties, not in violation of public
policy or a statute imposing a criminal penalty.
2. The right of a spouse or child to support shall not be
adversely affected by a premarital agreement.
Code § 596.5(1)(g), (2).
Attorney Fees for Child Support and Spousal Support.
the district court and court of appeals based their
respective analyses on whether a premarital-agreement waiver
of attorney fees concerning child support or spousal support
violates public policy. See id. §
596.5(1)(g). We conclude, however, that the attorney
fees issue regarding child support or spousal support can be
resolved without an enunciation of Iowa's public policy
on the enforceability of premarital-agreement provisions
waiving attorney fees. We rely, instead, on our
well-established principles of statutory interpretation in
discerning the meaning of "adversely affected" in
section 596.5(2) and conclude a premarital-agreement waiver
of attorney fees ...