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In re Marriage of Barnhouse

Court of Appeals of Iowa

January 9, 2020

IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF LYNNE B. BARNHOUSE AND JOEL P. BARNHOUSE Upon the Petition of LYNNE B. BARNHOUSE, Petitioner-Appellee, And Concerning JOEL P. BARNHOUSE, Respondent-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Dallas County, Thomas P. Murphy, Judge.

         Joel Barnhouse appeals from the decree dissolving his marriage to Lynne Barnhouse. AFFIRMED AS MODIFIED.

          James V. McKinney of McKinney Law Offices, P.C., Waukee, for appellant.

          Jason S. Rieper of Rieper Law, P.C., Des Moines, for appellee.

          Heard by Bower, C.J., and May and Greer, JJ.

          GREER, JUDGE

         Joel Barnhouse appeals from the decree dissolving his marriage to Lynne Barnhouse. He argues the court should have set aside his gifted and premarital property before dividing the remaining property between the parties. We find that some of the realty should be excluded from marital property, and we modify the equalization payments to Lynne. We otherwise affirm the district court. We also deny Lynne's request for appellate attorney fees.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         Joel and Lynne began dating around October 1997. In May 1998, they began commingling funds in a single bank account. They moved in together by late 1998 with their children from prior relationships. As a couple, they produced no offspring. When the relationship crumbled, Lynne petitioned for dissolution of marriage on December 2, 2016. Because Joel disputed the marital status of the couple, the district court found by separate order that they entered into a common law marriage on or about January 1, 1999.[1] The dissolution matter went to trial on June 14, 2018.

         By way of background, Joel was born in 1951. At the time of trial, he worked for a small company in Des Moines performing maintenance and repairs. He reported receiving gross annual employment income of $55, 866 and gross annual Social Security benefits of $25, 920. He plans to retire around the end of 2018. Upon retirement, he will receive $3408 annually from a pension with a former employer.

         As for Lynne, she was born in 1961. At the time of trial, she worked for a company managing livestock. She reported receiving gross employment income of $31, 607.37 for 2017. She has no significant retirement savings.[2]

         The marital property mainly consists of five pieces of realty. The parties agreed to the value of each parcel. We summarize each real estate holding.

         1. Dexter Acreage[3]

         The Dexter acreage is a three-acre parcel worth $42, 700 and is unencumbered by debt. Joel bought this property from his mother around 1979. In 2012, the parties spent about $20, 000 from the Guthrie farm mortgage funds to construct a small building on the property and also used funds to pay off a loan against the acreage.

         2. Adair Farm

         The Adair farm is a 152-acre parcel worth $1, 228, 160. Joel and his brother, Tim, each own a one-half interest in the Adair farm, making Joel's interest worth $614, 080. Minus taxes and insurance, the total net annual cash rent from the property is $13, 514. So Joel's share of the annual net cash rent is $6757. At the time of trial, the couple's remaining debt obligation from the amount borrowed to purchase the property equaled $71, 798.[4]

         Joel's grandfather owned the Adair farm during his lifetime. He left the property to a family trust when he died. Beneficiaries of this trust included Joel and his three siblings in equal shares. No one disputes that Joel inherited a one-fourth interest in this farm. In 2005, the entire property went to auction after two of the siblings forced a sale. Joel and Lynne bought the property at the auction with Joel's brother, Tim, for $408, 200. Tim and Joel paid their siblings one-half of that price for their shares, and at the same time they borrowed $475, 000 from the bank. Joel owned the property with his brother, but later Lynne signed a deed so the brothers owned the land as tenants in common.

         3. Guthrie Farm

         The Guthrie farm is a 110-acre parcel worth $759, 760. The net annual cash rent from the property is $16, 961. At the time of trial, there was a mortgage obligation with a balance of $222, 762.[5]

         Joel testified the property has been in his family since around the Civil War. In 1966, Joel's father deeded the property to his siblings-Joel's uncle Tom and aunt Edith. On June 26, 1998, Tom and Edith deeded the property to Joel. Joel mortgaged the property and paid Tom and Edith $30, 000 for the Guthrie farm in 1998 with a promissory note only Joel signed; however, the parties agree the property was worth $160, 600 at the time. Joel testified the property was a gift from his uncle and aunt. While Lynne agreed with characterizing the property as a gift, she also testified they bought the property under a "stipulation with the family that we would take care of Tom and [Edith]." The parties disagreed about the date Edith began living with them-Joel testified it was after the purchase and Lynne maintained it was before purchase. For the next three years, Lynne provided round-the-clock care for Edith, received $900 per month in public assistance as a caretaker wage for that role, and did not work outside the home. Edith eventually moved into a nursing facility when her needs became too great for Lynne. Later, from about November 2002 until January 2003, Joel's father lived with the parties and Lynne provided "light care" to him while she worked outside the home.

         4. Redfield Home

         The Redfield home is worth $190, 000 and has no debt. Lynne acquired the property during a previous marriage and received sole ownership of the property in the prior divorce settlement.[6] Joel moved into the Redfield home with Lynne and their then-minor children in late 1997. In 2005, the home suffered extensive fire damage, which the parties repaired largely using insurance money. In 2011, another fire destroyed the home. The parties then demolished the remains and built a new home in its place. Each party confirmed they used funds from the Guthrie farm mortgage to pay $60, 277 to rebuild the Redfield home and $51, 005 to satisfy the original Redfield home loan.

         5. Spirit Lake Home

         The Spirit Lake home is worth $418, 000 and has no debt. Lynne's parents owned the property for about fifty years before they deeded the property to her on July 15, 2011. The parties paid $50, 000 for the property, which Lynne acknowledges was well below market value. Joel helped with maintenance and repairs to the property while Lynne's parents owned it, and he continued to do so after the transfer.

         Once trial began, Lynne and Joel agreed on the specific award of real estate. The dispute involved designating what was marital property and the resulting equalization payment. Lynne requested an equalization payment of $300, 000, plus spousal support or an additional property payment of $125, 000 in lieu of ongoing support. Joel characterized much ...

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