IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF ROBERT ALLEN STERNER, JR. AND MARY ANNE DUNHAM STERNER Upon the Petition of ROBERT ALLEN STERNER, JR., Petitioner-Appellee, And Concerning MARY ANNE DUNHAM STERNER, Respondent-Appellant.
from the Iowa District Court for Madison County, Richard B.
wife appeals the provisions of a dissolution decree involving
spousal support, the division of farmland, the husband's
inheritance, a personal-injury award, the filing of the
parties' 2016 taxes, and possible bonuses and retirement
contributions from the husband's employer that were to be
received after dissolution took place.
Everett and Anjela A. Shutts of Whitfield & Eddy, PLC,
Des Moines, for appellant.
Engel of Engel & Maharry, Clive, and Jami J. Hagemeier of
Williams & Hagemeier, PLC, Des Moines, for appellee.
by Potterfield, P.J., and Tabor and Mullins, JJ.
POTTERFIELD, Presiding Judge.
Sterner appeals from the decree dissolving her marriage to
Robert Sterner Jr. Mary challenges a number of provisions in
the decree, including those involving spousal support; the
division of farmland; setting aside Robert's inheritance
as non-marital; the determination Mary's personal injury
awards were marital property; the filing of their 2016 taxes;
and Robert's bonus and retirement contributions from
2017-the year of the dissolution. Additionally, she asks for
an award of appellate attorney fees. Robert asks that we
affirm the decree, deny Mary's request for appellate
attorney fees, and award him fees instead.
Background Facts and Proceedings.
parties were married in 1986. They had two children; both
reached maturity before the time of the dissolution trial-in
the summer of 2017.
time of trial, Mary was fifty-seven years old. She had worked
outside of the home as a nurse at the beginning of the
parties' marriage but had not done so since approximately
1990. Mary was injured in two car accidents: one in 2006 and
one in 2010. She testified about a number of ongoing medical
problems she suffered as a result.
was fifty-nine years old at the time of trial and was
employed as a national sales manager, which required him to
travel approximately ten days a month. Robert earned a base
salary of $150, 000 annually and was eligible for monthly and
annual bonuses-contingent on whether he met his sales goals.
Robert testified that he did not anticipate earning an annual
bonus for 2017.
different times during the parties' marriage, they
acquired several pieces of farmland, ultimately amassing
approximately 640 contiguous acres. Mary's parents and
brother live nearby. Robert and Mary eventually built the
marital home on one of the parcels. Robert testified the
parties bought the land as part of a long-term investment
strategy for their retirement. During their marriage, Robert
and Mary rented out some of the tillable land, rented a
building to a local company, and participated in the
government's Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Robert
estimated the farm income from rentals and CRP payments to be
$66, 395 annually. Additionally, Mary ran a livestock
operation. At the time of dissolution, the farm included
cattle, miniature horses, poultry, water fowl, and goats.
Mary testified, and Robert did not dispute, that all of the
poultry and waterfowl, all but one goat, and about half of
the miniature horses belonged to the parties' children.
The district court did not consider the worth of these
animals when dividing the marital estate. The parties also
owned approximately 100 cattle. Both parties testified the
farm did not earn enough to be self-sustaining.
and Mary disagreed as to the value of the various parcels of
land and how they should be divided. Each hired an expert to
appraise the land, and both experts testified at trial. Mary
expressed her desire to continue operating the farm. She
proposed she be awarded more of the farmland-including
specific parcels-in order to continue the farming operation
or, alternatively, that she be allowed to take out a bank
loan to purchase the rest of the land from Robert. Robert
proposed dividing the land into two-each made up of four
parcels. He testified he would be willing to take either of
the two sections.
asked the court to set aside the inheritance he received from
his mother in 2014, and Mary asked the court to set aside the
amounts she received for personal injury claims from both the
2006 and 2010 car accidents. Robert also asked the court to
order the parties to file their 2016 tax returns as married
filing jointly; he testified he believed the parties would
receive the largest refund if they filed that way. Mary asked
the court to order the parties to file their returns
separately and agreed that if they did so, Robert could keep
any refund he received.
Mary asked the court to award her traditional spousal support
in the amount of $9000 monthly until she reached age
sixty-five, then $5000 per month for two years, and then
$3500 per month until she remarried or one of the
dissolution decree,  the court set aside Robert's 2014
inheritance from his mother. The court determined all other
property of the parties was marital and equally divided it
between Robert and Mary. The court valued the parties'
land at a total of $3, 447, 077 and accepted Robert's
proposal for the land division. Based on the court's
valuation of the various parcels, Robert received
approximately $283, 000 more in land value than Mary, but
Mary received more than half of Robert's retirement
accounts and almost all of the funds in the
parties' bank accounts. Robert was ordered to pay Mary an
additional $35, 285 in an equalization payment, which was to
be paid from one of Robert's retirement accounts. Each
party was ultimately awarded approximately $2, 175, 850 in
marital assets. Additionally, Robert was ordered to pay Mary
traditional spousal support in the amount of $3500 per month
until she turns sixty-five, then $2500 per month for two
years, and then $1500 until her remarriage or either
Standard of Review.
an action for dissolution is an equitable proceeding, we
review de novo. In re Marriage of Thatcher, 864
N.W.2d 533, 537 (Iowa 2015). While we examine the entire
record and adjudicate the issues anew, we will only disturb
the ruling of the district court if there has been a failure
to do equity. See In re Marriage of McDermott, 827
N.W.2d 671, 676 (Iowa 2013).
challenges the economic provisions of the dissolution decree.
She maintains the court was wrong to set aside Robert's
inheritance as non-marital and argues the amounts she
received from two personal injury suits should have been set
aside. Additionally, she challenges the amount of spousal
support she was awarded; argues the farmland should have been
divided differently or she should have been allowed to
purchase the rest of the farmland from Robert; asks us to
adjust the court's order in regard to how the
parties' 2016 taxes were to be filed; and maintains the
court should have divided Robert's 2017 bonuses and
begin by considering whether the district court properly set
aside the full amount Robert inherited from his mother two
years before the dissolution action- approximately $134, 000.
See In re Marriage of Schriner, 695 N.W.2d 493, 496
(Iowa 2005) (noting the court's first task in ensuring an
equitable distribution "is to determine the property
subject to division"). Mary maintains it was inequitable
to set the money aside, as it was commingled with marital
funds and ultimately spent before the dissolution.
Alternatively, she maintains the court should have set aside
only the net amount of inheritance Robert received after
paying taxes, penalties, and fees resulting from withdrawal
of the funds from an IRA- approximately $94, 000.
to Iowa Code section 598.21(5) and (6) (2016), any property
inherited by one party during the marriage is generally not
subject to division unless refusal to divide the property
will result inequity. When determining whether it would be
unjust to ...