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In re Marriage of Freudenberg

Court of Appeals of Iowa

December 5, 2018

And Concerning MARK WILLIAM FREUDENBERG, Respondent-Appellee/Cross-Appellant. Upon the Petition of CHRISTINE Y. FREUDENBERG, Petitioner-Appellant/Cross-Appellee,

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Black Hawk County, Linda M. Fangman, Judge.

         Christine Freudenberg appeals, and Mark Freudenberg cross-appeals, a decree of dissolution of marriage.

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

          Terry D. Parsons of Olsen & Parsons Law Firm, Cedar Falls, for appellee.

          Heard by Tabor, P.J., and Mullins and Bower, JJ.

          MULLINS, JUDGE.

         Christine Freudenberg, n/k/a Christine Seres, appeals, and Mark Freudenberg cross-appeals, from the spousal-support and property-distribution provisions of a dissolution decree. Christine challenges the spousal-support award and property-distribution provisions as inequitable. Mark argues that if this court modifies any of the economic provisions of the dissolution decree, the entire decree must then be reevaluated and adjusted accordingly. Christine seeks an award of appellate attorney fees.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         On March 3, 2001, Christine and Mark married. Christine was thirty-eight years old and Mark was forty. No children were born of this marriage. Both parties have children from prior marriages[1] who at various times lived with Christine and Mark. Christine filed for dissolution in November 2016.

         At the time of the marriage, Christine worked at PDCM Insurance. She quit her job five or six months after marrying Mark. Christine has a high school diploma and has attended some computer classes. She has worked as a secretary, word processor, and in the information technology (IT) field since she graduated from high school. She began working at RSM Insurance in May 2002. She maintained this employment through the time of trial. Her job requires her to attend professional improvement courses for work, but none of the classes have provided her credit toward a post-secondary degree. At the time of trial, Christine worked part-time (twenty hours per week) and mainly from home as an IT consultant for RSM. Her main task consists of social engineering testing, which requires her to make phone calls. Christine's gross monthly salary is approximately $3300 and she is eligible to earn an end-of-the-year bonus and spot bonuses throughout the year. On occasion, Christine works full time at RSM and sought a full-time position within the company.

         Prior to this marriage, Christine worked at Waterloo Industries, where she had a retirement account. After Waterloo Industries shut down, she rolled the account into a new account at PDCM. After leaving PDCM, she then rolled the account into a 401(k) (American Funds), which she still had at the time of trial. Christine added to the retirement account during the five to six months she worked at PDCM after the initiation of the marriage, but after she left PDCM and rolled the funds into the 401(k), she added no other funds to the account. At the time of the marriage, Christine also had a TIAA/CREF account from a previous employer. She made no contributions to that account over the course of the marriage. Through her work at RSM, Christine has an additional 401(k) (Fidelity).[2]

         At the time of the marriage, Mark had worked for John Deere for approximately ten years as a drive-train engineer. At the time of trial, he was the manager of the drive-train engineering division. Before starting at John Deere, he received a degree in mechanical engineering, and while in the United States Navy, he received experience and skills relating to mechanical engineering. At the time of trial, Mark's annual base salary was $136, 488.[3] Mark also earns bonuses based on the company's productivity. His 2016 bonus was approximately $35, 000. Through John Deere, Mark had a pension, health savings account (HSA), and savings and investment plan (SIP).[4] Mark's pension account is a defined benefits plan consisting of funds contributed solely from John Deere. Mark's pension was fully vested at the time of marriage, but the expected benefit continues to increase with his years of service. Mark established the SIP and HSA accounts after his marriage to Christine, and began participation in an investment fund (Deere Millionaire's Club) with other couples that worked at Deere. Each participant contributed an amount of money to invest in certain stocks and then received shares of the investment.[5]

         After the parties married, Christine sold her house and she and her son lived with Mark and his son in Mark's farmhouse for a short time. They used the proceeds from the sale of Christine's house as a down payment on the current family home, to purchase furniture, and to establish a college-savings account for Christine's son.

         During their marriage, Christine deposited her paycheck into her own bank account while Mark deposited his into their joint account. Mark paid most of the household expenses during the marriage and the majority of the utilities. Christine's employer covered one-half of the couple's internet fees since most of her job duties required her to make phone calls. Christine identified her main hobby as shopping on QVC, estimating that she made $38, 000 in purchases over the last three years, minus any returns. She owed QVC for past purchases at the time of trial. One of Mark's hobbies is hunting and he hunted in the Bloomfield area. The couple purchased farm land in that area in 2012 for Mark's hunting.

         Christine filed a petition for dissolution of marriage on November 15, 2016. At trial, Christine and Mark contested the equitable distribution of property and spousal support. The court entered the dissolution decree on September 1, 2017. The court awarded Christine assets in the amount of $418, 823 and made her responsible for liabilities of $6429, resulting in a property award of $412, 394. Included in the property award was the marital home, the bank accounts in her name, and the entirety of her interest in her retirement accounts. Mark was awarded assets totaling $193, 164 and liabilities totaling $8290 for a total property award of $184, 874. This award included the farm land near Bloomfield, the entire interest in his Deere Millionaire's Club Fund, and the entirety of his John Deere pension. The court awarded Mark's pension solely to him "in light of the overall property settlement." The property settlement included the division of Mark's John Deere SIP account pursuant to a qualified domestic relations order (QDRO) using the Benson[6] formula. The court awarded no attorney fees to either party. Christine appeals and Mark cross-appeals.[7]

         II. Standard of Review

         Dissolution-of-marriage actions are tried in equity, thus our review is de novo. In re Marriage of McDermott, 827 N.W.2d 671, 676 (Iowa 2013). "Accordingly, we examine the entire record and adjudicate anew the issue of the property distribution." Id. "[W]e give weight to the factual findings of the district court, [but] we are not bound by them." In re Marriage of Mauer, 874 N.W.2d 103, 106 (Iowa 2016). We give the trial court significant latitude in determining spousal support. In re Marriage of Gust, 858 N.W.2d 402, 406 (Iowa 2015). We will affirm a district court determination unless "there has been a failure to do equity." Mauer, 874 N.W.2d at 106.

         III. ...

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