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In re Marriage of Pontier

Court of Appeals of Iowa

November 6, 2019

IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF MATTHEW T. PONTIER AND JESSICA L. PONTIER Upon the Petition of MATTHEW T. PONTIER, Petitioner-Appellant, And Concerning JESSICA L. PONTIER, Respondent-Appellee.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Warren County, Richard B. Clogg, Judge.

         Matthew Pontier appeals several provisions of the decree dissolving his marriage to Jessica Pontier.

          Andrew B. Howie of Shindler, Anderson, Goplerud & Weese, P.C., West Des Moines, for appellant.

          David Brick of Brick Gentry, P.C., West Des Moines, for appellee.

          Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Potterfield and Tabor, JJ.

          Vaitheswaran, Presiding Judge.

         Matthew and Jessica Pontier divorced after thirteen years of marriage. On appeal, Matt challenges the following portions of the dissolution decree: (1) the spousal support provision; (2) the parenting schedule associated with the court's award of joint physical care of their three children; (3) a child support award of $350 per month; and (4) a provision requiring him to pay Jessica's portion of a custody-evaluation fee.

         I. Spousal Support

         The district court ordered Matt to pay Jessica rehabilitative alimony of $1000 per month for thirty-six months. The court reasoned that this was "an almost thirteen year marriage"; Matt earned far more than he disclosed; Jessica was "out of the workforce" for six years and "had only been working six months when this divorce was initiated by" Matt; Jessica was "doing everything she" could "to make as much money as she" could "and still be a mom"; Jessica lacked savings and would have to pay for her own health insurance after the divorce was finalized; and Jessica would have to pay more for housing following the divorce. The court concluded this was "not an appropriate case for traditional alimony" but found the case was "particularly suited for rehabilitative alimony."

         "Self-sufficiency is the primary goal of rehabilitative alimony." In re Marriage of Smith, 573 N.W.2d 924, 926 (Iowa 1998). Matt argues Jessica was self-sufficient without an award of spousal support. On our de novo review, we disagree.

         Although Jessica was relatively young-just thirty-eight at the time of trial-she did not earn significant wages for several years during the marriage. While she had a four-year college degree and experience with a technology company, her full-time wages before she transitioned to being "a stay-at-home mom," were only "around 30[, 000]." By agreement with Matt, she cared for their twins and a third child almost full-time, working "early mornings and a couple evening[s]" at a local fitness center. Her wages from that employment were less than $3200 annually. See In re Marriage of Martin, No. 14-0568, 2015 WL 576065, at *7 (Iowa Ct. App. Feb. 11, 2015) ("Although Dawn has a four-year degree, she has not pursued a career in the area of visual arts. Instead, she spent more than half of the marriage staying home to raise the couple's children."). At the time of trial, Jessica earned $45, 691.

         Matt, in contrast, had peak earnings of more than $200, 000. He testified to earning far less in the years preceding trial, but the district court called his testimony into question. After noting he worked for his father's company, the court stated,

Despite the fact that he works for his family, his income has somehow gone down over $100, 000 in five years. Despite the fact that his income appears to be dropping precipitously, he testified that he hasn't discussed the issue with his boss and father. He testified that he hasn't discussed the issue with his brother, whom he works with. He testified that he has no idea what his brother makes and they have never talked about it. . . . The Court does not find this testimony credible.

         The court averaged Matt's income over five years, exclusive of his peak earning year, and adopted an annual income figure of $114, 202 in lieu of an actual income figure of $75, 000. The court's findings concerning Matt's income are fully supported by the record. The earnings disparity together with Jessica's need to re-establish herself in the workforce justified the award of rehabilitative alimony. See In re Marriage of David, No. 06-0239, 2006 WL 3613805, at *4 (Iowa Ct. App. Dec. 13, 2006) ("We, like ...


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