IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF EDWARD D. GUTCHER AND NANCY A. GUTCHER Upon the Petition of EDWARD D. GUTCHER, Petitioner-Appellant, And Concerning NANCY A. GUTCHER, Respondent-Appellee.
from the Iowa District Court for Monroe County, Randy S.
and cross-appeal challenging the economic provisions of a
decree of dissolution of marriage.
J. Goldsmith of Gaumer, Emanuel, Carpenter & Goldsmith,
P.C., Ottumwa, for appellant.
Heather M. Simplot of Harrison, Moreland, Webber &
Simplot, P.C., Ottumwa, for appellee.
by Danilson, C.J., and Doyle and McDonald, JJ.
an appeal and cross-appeal from the decree dissolving Nancy
and Edward (Ed) Gutcher's twelve-year marriage. In
Ed's appeal, he contends the district court erred in
invalidating the parties' prenuptial agreement and
challenges the district court's award of reimbursement
spousal support to Nancy. In Nancy's cross-appeal, she
contends the district court erred in refusing to hold Ed in
contempt for failing to preserve assets, contends the
property division was inequitable, seeks an award of
traditional spousal support, and requests additional trial
Nancy began dating in 2002. They began living together in
2003. They married in 2004. This was Ed's second
marriage, and it was Nancy's third marriage. Shortly
before their wedding Ed presented Nancy with a premarital
agreement, which she signed.
parties' financial circumstances are relatively
straight-forward. At the time they married, Nancy worked as a
nurse. Ed worked at Pella Corporation and farmed part-time.
The farm consisted of four-hundred acres of land used for row
crop and livestock. Eventually, Ed ceased employment with
Pella to farm full-time. The farm never had a profitable year
from the time the parties met until they divorced.
Nonetheless, Ed was able to continue to farm due to repeated
refinancing of his operating loans and due to Nancy's
income. All of Nancy's income was used to pay the
parties' living expenses, which subsidized Ed's
perpetually unprofitable farming operation. By the time of
trial, Ed's farming operation had been reduced to
one-hundred-thirty-five acres, but the value of the farmland
he owned increased significantly due, in part, to land
improvements made over the course marriage.
time of trial, Ed suffered from various medical and health
conditions. At the time of trial, Ed was sixty-five years
old. In 2002, Ed suffered an acute work-related injury while
employed with Pella resulting in the loss of several of his
fingers. He also suffered and continues to suffer from
various cardiovascular ailments. During the course of the
marriage, he underwent triple-bypass surgery. Nancy's
nursing experience allowed her to provide convalescent care
for Ed. The parties dispute to what extent Ed is currently
limited by his health conditions. Ed contends he is limited,
but he admits he has farmed full-time and intends to farm
full time for the next decade.
suffers from her own medical condition. At the time of trial,
Nancy was fifty-nine years old. After the parties married,
Nancy developed occipital neuralgia, a form of nerve damage
that causes her to suffer pain. Nancy tried several medical
treatments to alleviate her near-constant pain, but the
treatments were not successful. Eventually, with Ed's
approval, Nancy moved to Colorado to manage her pain through
the use of legal, medicinal cannabis oil. She testified the
cannabis oil treatment is helpful. However, she is now unable
to work and receives disability payments.
filed this dissolution action upon Nancy's move to
Colorado. With respect to the property division, Ed sought to
enforce the premarital agreement to prevent division of the
parties' premarital property. The district court
invalidated the agreement, noting Nancy did not have legal
representation when she signed the agreement and the
agreement contained no financial disclosures. When the court
divided the parties' property, the district court
incorrectly found Ed's farm "was inherited and/or a
gift" and incorrectly concluded the property could not
be divided. To compensate Nancy for her financial
contributions to the marriage, the district court awarded
Nancy reimbursement spousal support in the amount of $1200
per month for ten years. It also awarded Nancy her car,
personal bank accounts, personal property in her possession,
a camping trailer, an ATV (all-terrain vehicle), an Iowa
State Fair camping spot, and items of sentimental value.
cases are reviewed de novo, including challenges to
prenuptial agreements. See In re Marriage of
McDermott, 827 N.W.2d 671, 676 (Iowa 2013) (stating
dissolution actions are reviewed de novo); In re Marriage
of Shanks, 758 N.W.2d 506, 510-511 (Iowa 2008) (noting
"the general rule is that issues concerning the validity
and construction of premarital agreements are equitable
matters subject to . . . de novo review" even though
questions about the validity of a premarital agreement are
similar to contract disputes). "Although our review is
de novo, we afford deference to the district court for
institutional and pragmatic reasons." Hensch v.
Mysak, 902 N.W.2d 822, 824 (Iowa Ct. App. 2017);
accord In re Marriage of Gust, 858 N.W.2d 402, 406
(Iowa 2015) (noting we give great latitude to the district
court in fixing spousal support); In re Marriage of
Benson, 545 N.W.2d 252, 257 (Iowa 1996) ("This
deference to the trial court's determination is decidedly
in the public interest. When appellate courts unduly refine
these important, but often conjectural, judgment calls, they
thereby foster appeals in hosts of cases, at staggering
expense to the parties wholly disproportionate to any benefit
they might hope to realize."). As such, we will not
modify a decree unless the district court failed to do
equity. See In re Marriage of Mauer, 874 N.W.2d 103,
106 (Iowa 2016). "Prior cases are of little precedential
value, except to provide a framework for analysis, and we
must ultimately tailor our decision to the unique facts and
circumstances before us." In re Marriage of
Kleist, 538 N.W.2d 273, 276 (Iowa 1995) (citing In
re Marriage of Will, 489 N.W.2d 394, 397 (Iowa 1992)).
first address Ed's contention the district court erred in
holding the prenuptial agreement was not enforceable.
Code chapter 596 (2016) governs the enforceability of a
prenuptial agreement executed on or after January 1, 1992.
See Shanks, 758 N.W.2d at 511. A prenuptial
agreement is not unenforceable merely because it is "a
bad fiscal bargain for one party." In re Marriage of
Spiegel,553 N.W.2d 309, 316 (Iowa 1996) ("[W]e
will not so grossly interfere with the parties' freedom
to contract."), superseded by ...