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In re Marriage of Tassinari

Court of Appeals of Iowa

November 7, 2018

IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF SARAH J. TASSINARI AND STEVEN P. TASSINARI Upon the Petition of SARAH J. TASSINARI, Petitioner-Appellee, And Concerning STEVEN P. TASSINARI, Respondent-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Wright County, Gregg R. Rosenbladt, Judge.

         Steven Tassinari appeals the economic provisions of the district court's decree dissolving his marriage to Sarah Tassinari.

          Dani L. Eisentrager of Eisentrager Law, Eagle Grove, for appellant.

          Becky S. Knutson of Davis, Brown, Koehn, Shors & Roberts, PC, Des Moines, for appellee.

          Heard by Danilson, C.J., and Potterfield and Doyle, JJ.

          DOYLE, Judge.

         Steven Tassinari appeals the economic provisions of his decree dissolving his marriage to Sarah Tassinari. Upon our de novo review, we affirm as modified.

         I. Standard of Review.

         Because the district court hears dissolution-of-marriage proceedings in equity, our review is de novo. See In re Marriage of Mauer, 874 N.W.2d 103, 106 (Iowa 2016); see also Iowa Code § 598.3 (2016); Iowa R. App. P. 6.907. This requires examining the entire record and adjudicating the issue of the property distribution anew. See In re Marriage of McDermott, 827 N.W.2d 671, 676 (Iowa 2013). Nevertheless, we give weight to the district court's factual findings, especially with respect to the credibility of the witnesses. See id.; see also Iowa R. App. P. 6.904(3)(g). Ultimately, the ruling will not be disturbed unless there has been a failure to do equity. See Mauer, 874 N.W.2d at 106.

         II. Background Facts and Proceedings.

         Steven was born in 1961, and Sarah was born in 1963. They met in New Hampshire in the early 1980's. They began dating and then living together.

         In 1993, after Sarah's grandmother passed away, Steven and Sarah moved to Iowa to live at and manage Sarah's family's farm, known locally as Vanderlip Farm. The farm was purchased by Sarah's great-grandparents and consists of approximately 160 acres of crop land and 70 acres of pasture. There was a brick farmhouse, a horse barn, cattle and machine sheds, a pump house, and a corn crib on the property. Sarah's mother and Sarah's aunt were born in the farmhouse, and the two women inherited an equal share of the farm after Sarah's grandmother died.

         Steven and Sarah married in 1997. The two had no children. The parties lived at the farm rent-free in exchange for doing "some upkeep." Over the years, numerous repairs and improvements to the farm were made, including the "west wing" addition to the brick farmhouse, for which Sarah's mother and aunt paid. Though the two women hired someone to build the addition, many family members assisted. Steven, who had worked in construction, installed the drywall for the addition. Sarah helped paint. Sarah's uncle did the addition's wiring.

         The other structures were repaired or constructed on the land over time. In 2004, the parties paid for the building of a swimming pool on the farm. In 2006, Steven and Sarah purchased an Amish cabin that was placed on the farm land overlooking the river. The cabin was not a permanent structure. It did not have a foundation or running water. The parties later sold the cabin.

         The parties also raised cattle over the years on the land rent free. The farm rented out the farmland, and its income essentially paid for the farm's expenses.

         Sarah's mother died in 2010. Sarah inherited, among other things, her mother's undivided one-half interest in the farm, and several bank accounts and financial instruments, including IRA accounts. Sarah's brother died in 2011, and he left Sarah his life insurance and pension. At the time of trial, the farm ground and pasture was valued at $1, 285, 000.

         In 2011, the parties built a log home by the pool. Sarah testified she and Steven agreed to split the costs of building the home. She used about $200, 000 of her inheritance from her brother for her share of half the cost of the log home. Sarah testified the parties took out a construction loan of $100, 000, then they "put the CD on it," and she paid the monthly mortgage of $460 per month. She testified she and Steven purchased a CD of $80, 000 with monies in their joint savings account to secure their loan on the home, and she testified those were funds she received from her brother's inheritance. Sarah testified she and her aunt signed legal papers concerning the log home and the pool, so that if anything happened to Sarah, Steve could stay on the land.

         Both Sarah and Steven were employed over the years. Sarah holds a bachelor's degree and has worked part-time for many years of the marriage- including the time since the parties moved to Iowa. At the time of trial, she was working twenty-four hours per week and did not have any physical inability to obtain full-time work. Steven had worked full-time since moving to Iowa. Steven's base salary at the time of trial was around $27, 000, and in addition to his salary, he received a commission. From 2009 to 2015, Steven's sales commission was significant. However, in April 2015, Steven sustained a back injury at work, reducing his income substantially. Additionally, in 2016, Steven had open-heart surgery "to repair a hole in [his] heart and also rearrange some veins." There were complications, and Steven was still being medically treated for his heart condition. At the time of trial, Steven was ...


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