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In re Marriage of Friest

Court of Appeals of Iowa

March 20, 2019

IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF COLETTE DENISE FRIEST AND BRENT TODD FRIEST Upon the Petition of COLETTE DENISE FRIEST, Petitioner-Appellant/Cross-Appellee, And Concerning BRENT TODD FRIEST, Respondent-Appellee/Cross-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Hardin County, Timothy J. Finn, Judge.

         Colette Friest appeals and Brent Friest cross-appeals various provisions of the district court's decree dissolving their twenty-one-year marriage. AFFIRMED AS MODIFIED AND REMANDED WITH INSTRUCTIONS.

          Kodi A. Brotherson of Becker & Brotherson Law Office, Sac City, and Leslie Babich of Babich Goldman, P.C., Des Moines, for appellant.

          Anjela A. Shutts and Van T. Everett of Whitfield & Eddy, P.L.C., Des Moines, for appellee.

          Heard by Doyle, P.J., and Mullins and McDonald, JJ. Decided by Vogel, C.J., and Doyle and Mullins, JJ.

          DOYLE, Judge.

         Colette Friest appeals and Brent Friest cross-appeals various provisions of the district court's decree dissolving their twenty-one-year marriage. Upon our review, we affirm the district court's decree as modified and remand with instructions.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

         Brett and Colette Friest were both born in 1973. They received Bachelor of Science degrees from Iowa State University in 1995. They married in August 1996 and have four minor children-the oldest born in 2001 and the youngest in 2008. One of the children has intellectual disabilities and other serious health issues; the child generally requires supervision and is unlikely to be capable of independent living in the future. Colette anticipated that child would live with her and she would care for the child as long as she is able to do so.

         The parties' income throughout their marriage has been generated mostly from their employment with Friest Farms Ltd., a family-farm corporation owned primarily by Brent's parents. Friest Farms farrows to finish approximately 5000 pigs a year and also has a 2500 head custom contract finish hog site. Additionally, Friest Farms has about 400 acres of farm ground and pays Brent and his father custom farming lease payments to farm the ground.

         Brent oversaw the hog operation and was paid an annual salary by Friest Farms. He testified he was also paid by Friest Farms to custom farm Friest Farms ground.[1] In addition to his work for Friest Farms, Brent had a personal farming operation. He cash rented and farmed approximately 500 acres of row crops, corn, and soybeans with 10 acres of alfalfa, and his income from that work fluctuated year-to-year, as farm work tends to do.

         Colette also worked for Friest Farms. Before the children were born, Colette worked full-time for the business, helping take care of the pigs, doing sow records, and doing field work. She also helped Brent doing field work on their own farming operation. After the birth of their first child, Colette started cutting back her hours, and she became an hourly employee of Friest Farms. She continued working for the business until 2015. She has since been caring for the children and going to massage-therapy school. She anticipated she would complete the school program in 2018. Colette and Brent agreed Colette had no actual income at the time of trial.

         The parties' marital home and the land upon which it is situated is owned by Friest Farms. The parties lived in the home rent free, and Friest Farms paid most of the expenses related to the home, including real estate taxes, insurance, utilities, and repair costs. The business also paid for Brent and the eldest child's cell phone service and supplied the family with beef and pork. Friest Farms provided the family with health and dental insurance.

         Colette filed her petition for dissolution of marriage in February 2016. She requested she and Brent be granted joint legal custody of the children; that she be granted physical care of the children; and that Brent be granted visitation rights. Colette requested awards of child support and spousal support. The parties entered into a stipulated agreement concerning custody and visitation of the children prior to trial.

         Following a trial, the district court entered its decree. Based upon Colette's past earnings, her age, her health, and her education, the court determined Colette was capable of earning $31, 707 per year in income and used that figure in determining child support. The court accepted Brent's expert's opinion as to Brent's personal farming income, and the court determined Brent's total annual income for purposes of child support was $94, 578. Applying these earnings to the child support guidelines, and including a 20% credit for extraordinary visitation, the court determined Brent's monthly child support obligation for the four children was $1425, with the support obligation decreasing after each child reaches the age of majority. The court also determined Colette was entitled to lifetime spousal support starting at $500 per month, increasing when the child support award decreased, to a total of $1000 per month until either Colette or Brent died or Colette remarried.

         The court then distributed the parties' property. The court ordered Brent to pay Colette $75, 452 to equalize the overall distribution, with $37, 726 to be paid on or before December 31, 2017 and $37, 726 to be paid on or before December 31, 2018. The court ordered Brent be responsible for the first $250 of any non-insured or deductible medical or dental expenses, not covered by insurance per child per year, then, once that deductible was met, Colette would be responsible for 28% and Brent 72% of uncovered medical costs.

         Both Colette and Brent filed posttrial motions to amend or enlarge the district court's decree. See Iowa R. Civ. P. 1.904(2). The court denied both motions.

         Colette now appeals, and Brent cross-appeals.

         II. Discussion.

         Both Colette and Brent take issue with the court's division of property, as well as the spousal-support award. Concerning the latter, Colette argues the amount of the award was insufficient, and Brent argues the award should be reduced to a term of years. Colette also challenges the amount of the child-support award, asserting the court should have determined Brent's annual income was greater than the amount it found. Additionally, both Colette and Brent appeal with respect to the children's health insurance coverage and deductible, the children's life insurance policies, and the parties' own life insurance policies. Our review is de novo. See Iowa R. App. P. 6.907; In re Marriage of Fennelly, 737 N.W.2d 97, 100 (Iowa 2007). We examine the entire record and determine anew the issues properly presented. In re Marriage of Rhinehart, 704 N.W.2d 677, 680 (Iowa 2005). We give weight to the factual findings of the district court, but are not bound by them. In re Marriage of Geil, 509 N.W.2d 738, 741 (Iowa 1993).

         The trial court noted "[t]his is an extremely complicated case." In view of the 3709-page trial-court binder, [2] and the issues raised by the parties, we wholeheartedly agree with the trial court.

         A. Child Support.

         We begin with Colette's argument concerning child support. "In Iowa, child support is calculated using the child support guidelines." In re Marriage of Erpelding, 917 N.W.2d 235, 245 (Iowa 2018); see also Iowa Code § 598.21B(1) (2016); Iowa Ct. R. 9.2. "The purpose of the guidelines is to provide for the best interests of the children by recognizing the duty of both parents to provide adequate support for their children in proportion to their respective incomes." Iowa Ct. R. 9.3(1). Moreover, there is "a rebuttable presumption that the amount of child support which would result from the application of the guidelines prescribed by the supreme court is the correct amount of child support to be awarded." Iowa Code § 598.21B(2)(c).

         "To compute the guideline amount of child support," the district court must first compute the adjusted net monthly income of each parent. Iowa Ct. R. 9.14. That amount is determined by first determining each parent's gross monthly income. See Iowa Ct. R. 9.14(1). Under the guidelines, "'gross monthly income' means reasonably expected income from all sources." Iowa Ct. R. 9.5(1).

         In addressing the issue of Brent's income for setting child support, the district court observed:

A main issue during this trial was what the court should use as Brent's income, particularly from his personal farming operation, for setting his child-support obligation. In prior years, Brent farmed approximately 703.5 acres. Currently, Brent will only farm a total of 510.9 acres. Brent testified during trial that while he has searched for additional acres to farm, . . . he has been unsuccessful in locating additional acres. Based upon the decrease in the number of acres he is farming and the decrease in current crop prices, . . . [it is estimated] that Brent will break even for the 2017 crop year.
Brent has experienced big fluctuations in his farming income. For example, in 2011, Brent's gross farming income was $335, 929. In 2013, the gross farming income was $663, 537. In 2016, Brent's gross farming income dropped to $444, 462. Brent testified that he borrowed no money to operate his farm in 2015. In contrast, at the end of 2016, his operating note had a balance of over $250, 000.
The farm economy in the state of Iowa is in a downturn and is not really expected to improve in the near future. [Brent's] expert . . . testified that the comparison of cost of production to average crop prices . . . continues to show the dramatic decline in farm income in Iowa. [One of Brent's exhibits], a list of average grain prices in the state going back to 1925, demonstrates that the highest prices per bushel ever of corn in the state of Iowa occurred in 2011, 2012, and 2013, when it was $7.13 per bushel for corn, which is what Colette urges the Court to use in determining Brent's income. Since that time, the average price per bushel of corn has dropped to less than $4 per bushel in the last three calendar years.

         The district court relied upon Brent's expert's opinion as to determining Brent's personal-farming operation income. Brent's expert's report states:

At face value, the tax returns illustrate that Brent's income has gone down over the past three years, and the three-year average of adjusted straight-line income before taxes is $35, 778 . . . . We have chosen a three-year average after a closer analysis based on historical grain prices demonstrat[ing] that grain prices were at historical highs from 2011 through late 2013 and do not reflect the current market of [Brent's] current earning capacity. ...

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