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In re Marriage of Lynch

Court of Appeals of Iowa

January 23, 2019

IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF REBECCA JO LYNCH AND EDWARD JAMES LYNCH Upon the Petition of REBECCA JO LYNCH, Petitioner-Appellee/Cross-Appellant, And Concerning EDWARD JAMES LYNCH, Respondent-Appellant/Cross-Appellee.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Greene County, Adria Kester, Judge.

         Edward Lynch appeals, and Rebecca Lynch cross-appeals, a decree of dissolution of marriage.

          Danni J. Harris of Hope Law Firm, PLC, Ankeny, for appellant.

          James R. Van Dyke of Law Office of James R. Van Dyke, P.C., Carroll, for appellee.

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

          MULLINS, JUDGE.

         Edward Lynch appeals, and Rebecca Lynch cross-appeals, a decree of dissolution of marriage. Edward challenges the award of traditional spousal support in favor of Rebecca. Rebecca challenges the awards of spousal support and trial attorney fees as inadequate and contends the district court erred in setting aside the entirety of the premarital value of Edward's retirement account.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         The parties dated and lived together for about five years from 1985 to 1990. In 1991, Rebecca moved to Pennsylvania and married another man. That marriage ended in 1994, after which Rebecca returned to Iowa. The parties began dating again and living together in 2000. They married in 2004. At the time of trial, Rebecca was fifty-eight years of age and Edward was fifty-six.

         At the time of trial, Edward's gross annual income amounted to $112, 600. Edward has a retirement account with his employer. The value of the account prior to the marriage was $89, 000. At the time of trial, its value was $183, 618.[1] Edward has some back issues and suffers from arthritis in both hands and his lower back but is otherwise in good physical health.

         Rebecca dropped out of high school after completing her freshman year. After dropping out, Rebecca was unemployed for a number of years. She began working in her father's bar when she turned eighteen. She worked in the bar from 1977 until 1991, when she moved to Pennsylvania. After her first marriage ended in 1994, Rebecca returned to Iowa and continued working in the bar until 2000. In her trial testimony, Rebecca downplayed her role in the bar business, generally indicating she performed only menial tasks. Edward testified Rebecca's role was more than that, indicating Rebecca ran the business. Medical records admitted into evidence by Rebecca and the deposition testimony of her physician support Edward's position, as Rebecca reported to her physician that she ran and managed the bar and restaurant.

         After she discontinued her work at the bar, Rebecca started working as a "cleaning lady" at a hospital and earned minimum wage. Rebecca continued in this position until 2008, when she quit because of what she describes as communication difficulties. However, she reported to Edward that she left her employment because her mother was sick.[2] Rebecca has not been meaningfully employed since 2008.[3] She testified she has no source of income and no prospects whatsoever of obtaining employment. When asked whether she has sought employment, Rebecca responded, "I have done nothing." Rebecca responded in the negative when asked whether she thought she needed to seek employment. Edward has spoken with Rebecca about getting a job in the past, to which Rebecca responded, "Don't you ever tell me I have to get a job."

         Rebecca was diagnosed with situational depression in 2008. She also has degenerative arthritis in one of her knees and some skin and insomnia issues. One of her children, Gregory, was diagnosed with ALS in 2012. He passed away in 2017. In the two years leading up to his death, Gregory lived in Des Moines. Rebecca visited and cared for him daily. As to the state of her "emotional health," Rebecca testified her "main problems" concern the loss of her son and the process of "going through this," presumably the dissolution of her marriage. She testified her physical health is "okay."

         Rebecca generally testified that she has difficulty with reading and writing, which stems from her lack of competency in spelling. However, she testified she has no problems in responding to medical questionnaires when she visits her primary care physician. She is also able to follow instructions on when to take her various medications by writing them down. She is able to review bills and satisfy them by writing a check and addressing an envelope. Rebecca unequivocally testified she can read "prayer books." When presented with such a book during her trial testimony, she was able to read from it. She has not sought vocational training or pursued disability benefits as a result of her alleged inability to read or write. She is also able to communicate with others through email and social media. Rebecca has been an active participant in reviewing loan documents during the marriage. Edward testified he was completely unaware of Rebecca's alleged incompetency in reading and writing; she did not advise him of the issue until after she filed her dissolution petition. Rebecca did not advise her physician of the same until after the parties began discussing the possibility of dissolving the marriage. Rebecca's physician referred her to psychologists for learning-disability testing. There is no evidence in the record that Rebecca ever pursued any such testing.

         Rebecca filed her petition for dissolution of marriage in October 2016. Trial was held in October 2017. In its decree, the court divided the assets, which included awarding Edward the entirety of his retirement account and ordering him to pay Rebecca an equalization payment in the amount of $30, 000; ordered Edward to pay Rebecca permanent spousal support in the amount of $2000 per month, said amount being reduced dollar for dollar by any social security spousal benefits Rebecca draws from Edward's account; and ordered Edward to pay Rebecca $2500 in trial attorney fees.

         Edward filed a motion to enlarge or amend pursuant to Iowa Rule of Civil Procedure 1.904(2), challenging the award of permanent spousal support in light of the property distribution. Rebecca filed her own motion to enlarge or amend, requesting an increase in the award of spousal support. She filed a second motion requesting an increase in her award of attorney fees. In its ruling on the motions, the court largely declined the parties' requests as to spousal support, but recalculated its property distribution to not consider the premarital value of Edward's retirement account, and struck the requirement that Edward pay Rebecca an equalization payment.

         As noted, both parties appeal.

         II. ...

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