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In re Marriage of Ernst-Woodhouse

Court of Appeals of Iowa

September 12, 2018

IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF MARY LOU ERNST-WOODHOUSE AND DONALD J. WOODHOUSE Upon the Petition of MARY LOU ERNST-WOODHOUSE, Petitioner-Appellee, And Concerning DONALD J. WOODHOUSE, Respondent-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Hamilton County, Timothy J. Finn, Judge.

         Donald Woodhouse appeals the economic provisions of the decree dissolving his marriage to Mary Lou Ernst-Woodhouse.

          Andrew B. Howie of Shindler, Anderson, Goplerud & Weese, PC, West Des Moines, for appellant.

          Bernard L. Spaeth, Jr. and Kimberly S. Bartosh of Whitfield & Eddy, PLC, Des Moines, for appellee.

          Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Doyle and Mullins, JJ.

          DOYLE, Judge.

         Dr. Donald Woodhouse appeals the economic provisions of the decree dissolving his marriage to Dr. Mary Lou Ernst-Woodhouse.[1] Although the parties stipulated to most of the issues before the district court, they were unable to reach an agreement on a few of the assets accumulated during their twenty-three-year marriage. On appeal, we review the district court's determinations regarding two of these assets and the overall fairness of the property division. We also determine whether Donald is entitled to a child support credit for extraordinary visitation.

         We review dissolution actions de novo. See In re Marriage of Mauer, 874 N.W.2d 103, 106 (Iowa 2016). Although we examine the entire record and adjudicate the issues anew, we give weight to the district court's factual findings, especially with respect to the credibility of the witnesses. See In re Marriage of McDermott, 827 N.W.2d 671, 676 (Iowa 2013); see also Iowa R. App. P. 6.904(3)(g). This is because the district court, in making its credibility assessment, has the distinct advantage of listening and observing each witness's demeanor firsthand, while we must rely on a cold transcript. See In re Marriage of Udelhofen, 444 N.W.2d 473, 474 (Iowa 1989); In re Marriage of Vrban, 359 N.W.2d 420, 423 (Iowa 1984).

         For the reasons that follow, we affirm the property division as modified below.

         I. Property Division.

         Donald first challenges the division of the parties' property. At the time of the trial, Donald and Mary Lou had substantial assets and little debt. They agreed to the disposition of most of their assets. The assets that remained in dispute included a thirty-two acre farm in Warren County and an Edward Jones account valued at $497, 153. Donald challenges the award of these two assets, as well as the overall property distribution.

         When the court dissolves a marriage, it must divide the parties' property equitably. See Iowa Code § 598.21(1) (2016). In determining what division is equitable, the court must consider the factors set forth in section 598.21(5). The trial court has considerable latitude in making this determination, and we only reverse if "there has been a failure to do equity." See In re Marriage of Schriner, 695 N.W.2d 493, 496 (Iowa 2005). The question is what is fair and equitable in each circumstance. In re Marriage of Hazen, 778 N.W.2d 55, 59 (Iowa Ct. App. 2009). Of course, opinions will vary as to what is fair and equitable in each circumstance.

         A. Warren County Farm.

         The first dispute concerns property referred to as the Warren County Farm, which Donald and Mary Lou purchased in 2010 for $610, 000. They agreed the farm's value at the time of trial was $744, 500 but disagreed as to whom the court should award the farm and whether any portion of its value should be set aside to Mary as inherited property. The district court set off $610, 000 to Mary Lou as inherited property, ...


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