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In re Marriage of Berg

Court of Appeals of Iowa

September 12, 2018

IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF MARK ALAN BERG AND AMY LYNN BERG Upon the Petition of MARK ALAN BERG, Petitioner-Appellee, And Concerning AMY LYNN BERG, Respondent-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Carla T. Schemmel, Judge.

         Amy Berg appeals the economic provisions of the decree dissolving her marriage to Mark Berg.

          Karmen R. Anderson of Anderson & Taylor, PLLC, Des Moines, for appellant.

          Scott L. Bandstra of Bandstra Law Firm, Des Moines, for appellee.

          Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Potterfield and Tabor, JJ.

          VAITHESWARAN, Presiding Judge.

         Amy and Mark married in 2005, had two children, and divorced in 2015. Amy appeals the economic provisions of the dissolution decree. She contends (1) the district court should have assigned her one of the two tax exemptions for the children; (2) the district court's property division was inequitable, and (3) she should have been awarded more trial attorney fees.

         I. Tax Exemptions

         The district court ordered Mark "to claim both children as dependents exemption for federal and state income tax." Amy argues the dependent exemptions should have been "split evenly." She notes that Mark earned "over three times the amount of money" that she did; she received "the earned income credit due to her low income"; she used tax refunds "to pay off debts"; and "[t]aking away any tax exemptions from her [would] significantly reduce[] her income and increase[] her tax liability."

         "The 'general rule' is that the parent given primary physical care of the child is entitled to claim the child as a tax exemption." In re Marriage of Okland, 699 N.W.2d 260, 269 (Iowa 2005) (citation omitted); see Iowa Ct. R. 9.6(5) ("The custodial parent shall be assigned one additional dependent exemption for each mutual child of the parents . . . ."). "However, courts have the authority to award tax exemptions to the noncustodial parent 'to achieve an equitable resolution of the economic issues presented.'" Okland, 699 N.W.2d at 269 (quoting In re Marriage of Rolek, 555 N.W.2d 675, 679 (Iowa 1996)).

         Amy was granted physical care of the children. But, as she acknowledges, her income was significantly lower than Mark's and she was eligible for the earned income credit, reducing the value of the dependent exemption to her. See, e.g., In re Marriage of Coons, No. 06-0699, 2007 WL 750571, at *2 (Iowa Ct. App. Mar. 14, 2007) (affirming award of dependent exemption to the noncustodial parent where he earned close to three times more than the custodial parent and custodial parent would have to pay no income tax); Bates v. Loosemore, No. 04-1822, 2005 WL 1969729, at *1 (Iowa Ct. App. Aug. 17, 2005) (affirming award of dependent exemption to the noncustodial parent where the mother was entitled to earned income credit up through earnings of $25, 000, regardless of whether she claimed the child as a dependent.). Specifically, Amy testified her actual earnings in the year preceding trial were $7111 and she anticipated her earnings in 2015 "would be about $15, 000." Although the district court found her annual income was $18, 000, this figure was still significantly lower than the $56, 800 annual income figure ascribed to Mark. In addition to her eligibility for the earned income credit, Amy claimed dependent exemptions for two children from another relationship.

         Based on this record, we conclude the district court acted equitably in assigning both dependent exemptions to Mark.

         II. Property Distribution

         Amy argues the property distribution portion of the decree was inequitable. In her view, (A) she should have received half rather than one-third of one of Mark's retirement accounts; (B) a pension should have been equitably ...


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