IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF BRIDGET ANNE DRENTER AND JOHN DRENTER Upon the Petition of BRIDGET ANNE DRENTER, Petitioner-Appellant/Cross-Appellee, And Concerning JOHN DRENTER, Respondent-Appellee/Cross-Appellant.
from the Iowa District Court for Scott County, Nancy S.
husband and wife appeal the decree dissolving their marriage.
Michael J. Motto of Bush, Motto, Creen, Koury & Halligan,
P.L.C., Davenport, for appellant/cross-appellee.
E. Dusthimer, Davenport, for appellee/cross-appellant.
Considered by Potterfield, P.J., and Bower and McDonald, JJ.
Tabor, J., takes no part.
and John Drenter were married for thirty-four years prior to
divorcing in August of 2017. They now appeal and cross-appeal
the decree dissolving their marriage. In her appeal, Bridget
challenges the district court's division of marital
assets as well as the amount and duration of spousal support.
She requests appellate attorney fees. In his cross-appeal,
John contends the district court should have credited him for
house payments he made during the parties' separation
prior to entry of the dissolution decree.
court's review of dissolution proceedings is de novo.
See In re Marriage of Thatcher, 864 N.W.2d 533, 537
(Iowa 2015); In re Marriage of McDermott, 827 N.W.2d
671, 676 (Iowa 2013); In re Marriage of Shanks, 758
N.W.2d 506, 510 (Iowa 2008). We consider "the entire
record and decide anew the factual and legal issues preserved
and presented for review." Hensch v. Mysak, 902
N.W.2d 822, 824 (Iowa Ct. App. 2017). "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)); In re Marriage of Fedorchak, No.
13-0466, 2013 WL 6116888, at *1 (Iowa Ct. App. Nov. 20, 2013)
(quoting Kleist, 538 N.W.2d at 276); accord In
re Marriage of Pelletier, No. 12-1704, 2013 WL 2637458,
at *2 (Iowa Ct. App. June 12, 2013). "Although our
review is de novo, we afford deference to the district court
for institutional and pragmatic reasons."
Hensch, 902 N.W.2d at 824. As a general
rule, this court will not modify a dissolution decree unless
the district court failed to do equity. See In re
Marriage of Mauer, 874 N.W.2d 103, 106 (Iowa 2016);
cf. In re Marriage of Graves, No. 13-1426, 2014 WL
3511879, at *2 (Iowa Ct. App. July 16, 2014).
first consider the district court's division of marital
property. "The partners to a marriage are entitled to a
just and equitable share of the property accumulated through
their joint efforts." In re Marriage of Miller,
552 N.W.2d 460, 463 (Iowa Ct. App. 1996). An equitable
division of property need not be an equal division. See
In re Marriage of Rhinehart, 704 N.W.2d 677, 683 (Iowa
2005). However, "it is generally recognized that
equality is often most equitable." In re Marriage of
Fennelly, 737 N.W.2d 97, 102 (Iowa 2007) (quoting
Rhinehart, 704 N.W.2d at 683).
case, the district court did not equally divide the
parties' property. The district court awarded John net
assets valued at $227, 997.19, which included the family home
and five individual retirement accounts ("IRAs") he
held. The district court awarded Bridget net assets valued at
$97, 606.64, which included the value of five additional IRAs
she held. The district court divided the assets in this
manner because it found Bridget dissipated the parties'
marital property. The district court found dissipation in two
respects. First, the district court found Bridget was a
spendthrift over the course of the marriage and her spending
significantly decreased the value of the property the parties
could have had but for her spending. Second, the district
court found Bridget dissipated her IRAs. The record shows the
parties had ten IRAs between them, which they divided at the
time of separation. The accounts in John's name totaled
$31, 429.96, and the accounts in Bridget's name totaled
$28, 823.33. Between the time of the parties' separation
and the time of trial, Bridget liquidated her IRAs and spent
the funds. After finding Bridget dissipated the parties'
assets, the district court concluded the pre-separation value
of Bridget's IRAs should be used when calculating
Bridget's share of the marital property. The district
court further concluded that Bridget's dissipation of
assets militated against an equal division of the
parties' remaining property.
determining whether the district court's division of
property was equitable, we first address the issue of
dissipation. When making a property distribution, a court may
generally consider a dissipation or waste of marital assets.
"A spouse dissipates assets when they lose or dispose of
assets that should have been in the marital property division
at the time of the divorce." In re Marriage of
Nelson, No. 16-0293, 2017 WL 3505290, at *2 (Iowa Ct.
App. Aug. 16, 2017). "In determining whether dissipation
has occurred, courts must decide '(1) whether the alleged
purpose of the expenditure is supported by the evidence, and
if so, (2) whether that purpose amounts to dissipation under
the circumstances.'" Fennelly, 737 N.W.2d
at 104 (quoting Lee R. Russ, Annotation, Spouse's
Dissipation of Marital Assets Prior to Divorce as Factor in
Divorce Court's Determination of Property Division,
41 A.L.R.4th 416, 421 (1985) [hereinafter Dissipation in
Division]). The first part of the inquiry "is an
evidentiary matter and may be resolved on the basis of
whether the spending spouse can show how the funds were spent
or the property disposed of by testifying or producing
receipts or similar evidence." Id. "It is
not enough for a spouse to merely show the incurrence of
expenditures during the period of separation. The spouse also
must show a nexus between the payment of the expenses and the
use of the marital assets at issue." In re
Marriage of Kimbro, 826 N.W.2d 696, 701 (Iowa
2013). The second part of the inquiry considers:
(1) the proximity of the expenditure to the parties'
separation, (2) whether the expenditure was typical of
expenditures made by the parties prior to the breakdown of
the marriage, (3) whether the expenditure benefited the
"joint" marital enterprise or was for the benefit
of one spouse to the exclusion of ...