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In re Marriage of Curtis

Court of Appeals of Iowa

February 20, 2019

IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF CYNTHIA SUE CURTIS AND ROSS LANE CURTIS Upon the Petition of CYNTHIA SUE CURTIS, Petitioner-Appellee, And Concerning ROSS LANE CURTIS, Respondent-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Scott County, Patrick McElyea, Judge.

         A former husband appeals the district court's denial of his request to modify spousal support.

          JohnPatrick Brown of Winstein, Kavensky & Cunningham, LLC, Rock Island, Illinois, for appellant.

          Cynthia Sue Curtis, Chillicothe, Illinois, self-represented appellee.

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


         In a 2015 decree dissolving the marriage of Ross and Cynthia Curtis, the district court ordered Ross to pay $1000 per month in spousal support. Citing a change in his employment, he now seeks to reduce his payments to $250 per month. The district court denied Ross's request to modify the support payments, finding he did not prove a substantial change in circumstances. The court also refused to modify the spousal support in June 2016. Because Ross did not offer credible evidence to show his earning capacity had decreased since the previous orders, we affirm.

         I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

         Ross and Cynthia had a twenty-seven-year marriage. Cynthia was the primary caretaker for their two children during the marriage. Ross had served in the naval reserve and testified he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Both spouses had learning disabilities when in school. At the time of the divorce, Cynthia worked thirty hours per week in customer service at Target, earning $11.37 per hour. Ross was a police officer for the city of Davenport, earning $33.35 per hour for full-time work.[1] Given their disparities in income and other factors, the court ordered Ross to pay spousal support in the amount of $1000 per month until Cynthia reached full retirement, died, or remarried.

         In March 2016, six months after the divorce, Ross sought to modify the spousal support, alleging he was no longer employed as a Davenport police officer and his income was "greatly reduced." Ross asserted he was told to resign or he would be fired. In May 2016, Cynthia sought a contempt finding against Ross, alleging he had not paid any spousal support. In a June 2016 order, the district court declined to modify the spousal support, finding Ross failed to show a substantial change in circumstances justifying a reduction in the amount of spousal support awarded to Cynthia. The court found no credible evidence Ross was forced to quit his job with the Davenport Police Department and insufficient evidence to support a finding his earning capacity decreased since entry of the decree. The court also found Ross in contempt.

         In January 2017, Ross again petitioned to modify his spousal support. The petition alleged he was now employed as a police officer in Centerville, and his income was "greatly reduced." At the January 2018 hearing on his petition, Ross testified he worked full time for the Centerville Police Department, earning $24.92 per hour, from July 2016 until February 2017. Ross testified he was dismissed after his probationary period because methods he learned while a Davenport officer did not translate to small-town policing. In June 2017, Ross started working as a security officer for Trinity Hospital twenty-four hours per week, earning $16.78 per hour.

         Cynthia resisted Ross's request to modify spousal support. She testified she continued working part-time at Target, earning about $20, 000 per year, until May 2017 when she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Her neurologist confirmed she was not able to continue working. She testified, without alimony, she would not be able to support herself.

         In a January 2018 ruling, the district court denied Ross's modification request, holding "Ross did not prove by a preponderance of the evidence that there was a substantial change in circumstances." The court believed "Ross could be doing more than he presented to obtain other part-time employment or potentially full-time employment."

         In a motion to enlarge, Ross claimed even if the district court were correct in finding he could work as a full-time police officer, it should have found-based on his salary in Centerville-"his income had decreased by 44% and reduced his maintenance obligation to $660 per month." In denying the motion, the district court found Ross "not credible as it related to his employment or financial situation." The court concluded, "Ross's claimed employment issues are not new issues presented to the Court, nor are they issues which were not within the ...

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