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In re Marriage of Naylor

Court of Appeals of Iowa

November 7, 2018


          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Black Hawk County, Kellyann M. Lekar, Judge.

         Appeal challenging the economic provisions of a decree of dissolution of marriage.

          Barry S. Kaplan and C. Aron Vaughn of Kaplan & Frese, LLP, Marshalltown, for appellant.

          Kevin D. Engels of Correll, Sheerer, Benson, Engels, Galles & Demro, PLC, Cedar Falls, for appellee.

          Heard by Vogel, P.J., and Vaitheswaran and McDonald, JJ.

          McDONALD, JUDGE.

         Ashley Naylor pursues this appeal from the decree dissolving her marriage to Richard Naylor. On appeal, Ashley challenges the property distribution and spousal support award as inequitable.

         The record reflects the following. The parties commenced their relationship in 2005 or early 2006. At the time the parties started dating, Richard was approximately forty-three years old and Ashley was approximately twenty-two years old. He was employed as an orthopedic surgeon at a local hospital, earning approximately $2 million per year. She was employed as a radiologic technologist at the same hospital, earning approximately $40, 000 per year. He was married with two children, and she was single. Although Richard was married with children, Richard and Ashley began cohabiting in May 2006. They continued to reside together while Richard's divorce from his spouse was pending. Richard's divorce was final in November 2010. Ashley and Richard married in April 2011.

         The parties entered the marriage with a disparity in assets. Richard brought significant assets into the marriage. He owned timeshare properties in Hawaii, Las Vegas, and Mexico. He owned two condo units in Panama City, Florida. One unit was rented out, while the other was used as a vacation home. He owned a home in Suffolk, Virginia. He owned four vehicles. He had a wine collection ranging between 100-150 bottles, a collection of artwork, substantial amounts of jewelry, several hundred-thousand dollars in precious metals, a retirement plan through his work, and his personal property. Ashley owned one vehicle at the time the parties began dating, but Richard paid the loan on the vehicle, gifted the vehicle to his niece, and purchased Ashley a new vehicle. Ashley also owned her personal possessions.

         The parties commingled their finances before and during the marriage. After the parties began dating, they opened joint bank accounts. They paid bills from the joint bank accounts. They had joint credit cards. They established retirement and investment accounts. They purchased life insurance policies. The aforementioned precious metals were purchased while the parties were dating but prior to their marriage. They owned real property together. As previously stated, the parties began living together in the spring of 2006. At that time, Richard had moved from the marital home into a duplex he purchased. Ashley moved into the duplex with Richard. After several years, Richard sold the duplex and purchased a home for himself and Ashley. They were not married at the time Richard purchased this home, and Richard held title to the home. Subsequently, the parties purchased land and built Ashley her "dream home." Richard estimated the parties spent approximately $1.6 million to build the home. Given the local real estate market and the customization of the home to the parties' taste (for example, the home contains a wine cellar capable of storing 1700 bottles of wine), the fair market value of the home is substantially less than the cost of the home and the mortgages on the home.

         During the course of the marriage, the parties lived, in their own words, an "opulent" lifestyle. This lifestyle was financed by Richard's significant income. Richard's income declined over the course of the marriage from approximately $2 million per year to approximately $1.5 million per year. He testified he worked less to spend more time with Ashley. He also testified he spent more time doing administrative work and less time performing surgery. This was because Richard was transitioning into an administrative position in the hospital. After the parties married, Ashley ceased full-time employment with the hospital, but she continued to work as a PRN nurse (from the Latin "pro re nata," for an occasion that has arisen, as circumstances require, as needed). The parties agreed Ashley was largely responsible for managing the household while Richard worked fairly long hours.

         Richard filed this petition for dissolution of marriage in May 2016. The contested issues at trial were property distribution and spousal support. In light of the disparity of income between the parties, the disparity in the value of premarital assets, and the short duration of the marriage, the district court concluded an equitable distribution of the parties' property did not require an equal division of the parties' property. The district court awarded Ashley some jewelry and other property but awarded the lion's share of the parties' property to Richard. The district court rejected Ashley's request for traditional or reimbursement support but did award Ashley rehabilitative support. The district court summarized its division of property and spousal support award as follows:

The court determines that [Richard] should be restored to the extent possible to the majority of the property he brought into the marriage. Further, the court finds that the assets acquired by the parties during the course of the marriage should be subject to equitable, but not equal distribution. [Ashley] should receive those assets were which directly invested into her name. [Richard] should receive those assets which were directly invested in his name or which were acquired through his employment benefits for the purposes of retirement savings.
[Ashley] should be afforded a fair amount of supposal [sic] support that will allow her to regain full-time employment or seek further education. She wishes to pursue that education on a part-time basis and estimates it will take her four to four and a half years at an approximate cost of $5, 000 per semester. The court believes that a period of four years should be sufficient to allow [Ashley] to advance her education and an additional year to regain a reasonable lifestyle that reflects her individual earning capacity and ability. [Ashley's] request . . . for spousal support that exceeds the actual length of the marriage is not reasonable. [Ashley] is entitled to reasonable spousal support and, as [Richard] has agreed to provide it, reasonable educational support.

         Our review in a marriage action is de novo. See In re Marriage of McDermott, 827 N.W.2d 671, 676 (Iowa 2013). "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).

         We first address the property distribution. "Iowa is an equitable distribution state." In re Marriage of Keener, 728 N.W.2d 188, 193 (Iowa 2007) (citing In re Marriage of Sullins, 715 N.W.2d 242, 247 (Iowa 2006)). Equitable distribution requires the division of "all of the property owned by the parties at the time of divorce except inherited property and gifts received by one spouse." Id. (citing Sullins, 715 N.W.2d at 247). An equitable distribution does "not require an equal division or percentage distribution." In re Marriage of Campbell, 623 N.W.2d 585, 586 (Iowa Ct. App. ...

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