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Family Law Case Summaries

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At the Klass Law Firm, L.L.P., we have extensive experience handling a wide range of family law and divorce issues for our clients. Based in Sioux City, Iowa, our firm serves clients throughout Iowa, as well as in the neighboring states of South Dakota and Nebraska.

We believe providing information and resources to our clients is of the utmost importance. Some case summaries we have here on our website are organized into the categories below:

Contact an experienced family law lawyer at the Klass Law Firm, L.L.P., today to discuss your case and needs. Call 800-613-7989 ext. 213.


The four factors that guide joint physical care decisions. In re Marriage of Fraker, (Iowa Ct. App. July 18, 2018): Devon and Kasandra Fraker married in 2011. They had two children. The couple divorced in 2017. The district court granted Kasandra physical care of the children. On appeal, Devon contends the court should have continued a joint physical care arrangement mandated by a temporary custody order or, alternatively, granted him physical care of the children. Four non-exclusive factors guide joint physical care decisions: (1) stability and continuity of caregiving; (2) the ability of spouses to communicate and show mutual respect; (3) "the degree of conflict between parents; and, (4) the degree to which the parents are in general agreement about their approach to daily matters. The Court of Appeals determined that the district court properly denied Devon’s request for joint physical care of the children. The Court based its decision denying Devon joint physical care of the children on the following facts: (1) Kasandra served as the children’s primary caretaker for the first four years of their lives; (2) Both Devon and Kasandra talked poorly of and at the other; (3) Devon and Kasandra had numerous conflicts and disagreements; and, (4) The distance between the parents’ prospective homes would have made transport to the children’s extracurricular activities cumbersome.

When seeking the dissolution of a common law marriage, the spouse seeking the dissolution has the burden to show the couple agreed and had the present intent to be married, publicly declared that intent, and continuously cohabitated. In re Marriage of Hiller & Nelsen, 909 N.W.2d 442 (Iowa Ct. App. 2017): Contending the parties had a common law marriage, Marsha Hiller petitioned for dissolution from Steve Nelsen on July 21, 2015. The district court held a trial and found a common law marriage commenced on July 1, 1998. On appeal, Steven maintains no common law marriage existed. The Court of Appeals stated that Iowa recognizes both ceremonial marriages, which are governed by statute, and common law marriages. The burden rests on the party claiming the existence of a common law marriage to prove the union by a preponderance of the evidence. To establish a common law marriage, Marsha had the burden to prove the following: (1) a present intent and agreement by both parties to be married, (2) a public declaration they are wife and husband, and (3) continuous cohabitation. The Court of Appeals defined each of these elements as follows:

  • Present Intent and Agreement: The requirement of a present intent and agreement to be married reflects the contractual nature of marriage. The agreement can be either express or implied. An implied agreement may support this element where one person intends to be married and the would-be spouse does not share in that intent, but the would-be spouse's conduct "reflects the same intent.
  • Public Declaration: Common law marriages cannot be secret. A couple's "holding out" of marriage to others is the "acid test" of a common law marriage. A substantial holding out to the public in general is sufficient.
  • Continuous Cohabitation: Cohabitation is generally defined as "living together, [especially] as partners in life, [usually] with the suggestion of sexual relations." Concerning the cohabitation element, the parties lived together while raising their three children from 1988 until August 2015—a total of twenty-seven years. Friends of the children who spent time in the family home testified to their belief Steven and Marsha were married, and the district court credited that testimony.

The Court of Appeals held that Marsha proved by a preponderance of the evidence the parties had a common law marriage as of November 24, 1993.The Court of Appeals based its holding on the following facts: (1) Steve shared Marsha’s belief the parties had entered into a common law marriage in Iowa as of November 24, 1993 as evidenced by a memo prepared by Steve’s employer which stated that Steve completed a common law marriage affidavit for the purposes of having her covered under an insurance policy; (2) In 1994 Steve voluntarily changes his IPERS beneficiary to "Marsha K. Hiller, Wife;" (3) Steve represented to multiple employers that Marsha was his wife by common law; (4) Steve consistently filed the parties’ tax returns as married from 1998 forward; (5) Steve wrote at least two love letters to his wife here he reminisced about being married to her for 16 years; (6) Steve gave Marsha an anniversary card; and, (7) The parties lived together while raising their three children from 988 until August 2015 – a total of 27 years.

Charitable donations and retirement savings in a reasonable sum may be a part of the needs analysis in fixing spousal support. In re Marriage of Stenzel, 908 N.W.2d 524 (Iowa Ct. App. 2018): At trial, Joel Stenzel proposed Cheryl Stenzel receive $3500 per month until he reached the age of sixty-six; Cheryl asked for $15,000 per month until she reached the age of sixty-seven and $4000 per month thereafter until the death of either party or her remarriage. The court ordered spousal support in the amount of $12,000 per month, which would decrease to $8000 per month when Joel reached the age of sixty-two. The support would decrease again to $4000 per month when Joel reached the age of full social security retirement (age sixty-seven). Joel appealed from the spousal support provisions of the decree dissolving his marriage to Cheryl. Upon appeal, Cheryl contended that she needed $17,510 per month to maintain her lifestyle. Joel contested Cheryl's budget items of $1200 per month for charitable donations, $500 per month for retirement savings, and $375 per month for gifts. Because Iowa Code § 598.21A(1)(f) required the Court of Appeals to consider the past standard of living of the parties, and not just basic needs or necessities, the Court concluded that charitable donations and retirement savings in a reasonable sum may be a part of the needs analysis in fixing spousal support. Here, the Court found no difficulty with Cheryl's expense item of $500 for retirement savings in light of the parties significant past history of preserving assets for retirement. However, the Court found that her level of charitable donations was significantly higher than the standard set for the parties as a married couple. Therefore, the Court found that the amount of $500 was a more proper sum in light of past standard of living. The Court was unable to conclude that Cheryl’s expense for gifts of $375 per month was unreasonable.

Former significant other liable for damages for illegally recording their partner’s telephone conversations. The parties had been living together with their two children, although they were preparing to separate. Jones set up a recording system, so that he could record Papillon’s conversations when he wasn’t home. Eventually, Jones started playing the recordings loudly at night, and informed Papillon that he intended to share the contents of the recordings, either in court or online. Papillon brought suit under Iowa Code § 808B, which prohibits the willful interception "a wire, oral, or electronic communication." The Court awarded Papillon actual damages of $2,076.55, which were the hotel expenses that she incurred after moving out of their home. However, the Court reversed the award of punitive damages, finding that the court had failed to establish that Jones was actually aware of the requirements of Iowa Code § 808B and "willfully, maliciously, or recklessly violated those statutory requirements." See Papillon v. Jones, No. 15-1813 (Iowa Ct. App., Oct. 26, 2016).

Awarding husband substantially more assets was equitable when he brought significantly more assets into the union and the marriage of short duration. The couple was married for 7 years. The husband's premarital net worth was $683,364, which was mostly rental property and the wife's premarital net worth was $98,916. During the course of the marriage the couple comingled funds and the rental properties were operated for a net loss. The trial court's division of assets resulted in the husband leaving the marriage with a net worth of $777,081 and the wife with $217,358. She appealed on the basis that the property division claiming that she should have been awarded a share of the value of the rental properties or in the alternative, a portion of the increase in the value of the rental properties that occurred during the marriage. The court examined the division based on the relevant factors including the length of the marriage, contributions of each party to the marriage, the age and health of the parties, each party's earning capacity, and the property each party brought to the marriage. The court found that the properties had only minimally increased in value during the marriage and that the husband brought more assets into the marriage which supported him receiving more in the division of property. In re Marriage of Peiffer, 2013 WL 5498153 (Iowa Ct. App. 2013).

Award of Spousal Support was inappropriate when husband's expenses were calculated incorrectly. The trial court ordered the husband to pay $1000 per month for 120 months. The husband and wife appealed. The husband claimed that the amount should be reduced to $250 per month because it is unequitable and the wife appealed claiming it should be $2400 per month and lack for her entire lifetime. The court of appeals considered the factors involved in spousal support which are: (1) the length of the marriage, (2) the age, physical, and emotional health of the parties, (3) the property division, (4) the educational level of the parties at the time of the marriage and at the time the dissolution action is commenced, (5) the earning capacity of the party seeking support, and (6) the feasibility of the party seeking support becoming self-supporting at a standard of living reasonably comparable to that enjoyed during the marriage. The court found that the husband's expenses were incorrectly calculated at $1178 when they were actually $2925. However, the husband also claimed higher expenses than the wife for food and included expenses for eating out. As a result the court ordered that the husband pay the wife spousal support in the amount of $450 per month for 120 months. In re Marriage of Burke, 2013 WL 5962933 (Iowa Ct. App. 2013).

Retroactive child support is limited to three months after the date the opposing party received notice. The children were both living with their father and no child support was ordered. The older child moved out and the younger child committed a delinquent act. As part of the juvenile court's adjudication of that delinquent act the younger child was to live with the mother. The date of that juvenile court order is July 2011. The mother filed a modification for the younger child's custody and support in September of 2011. The court ruled on the modification in March 2012 and ruled that the mother's support obligation terminated on the date of the juvenile court order and the father was required to pay support as of the date of that order. As a result the father owed child support arrearage from July 2011 through the date of the modification order. On appeal the father challenged the arrearages because Iowa Code only allows for retroactive modification "only from three months after the date the opposing party received notice." Three months after service is December 2011. Therefore the retroactive obligation is only valid from December 2011 and the father only owes arrearages from that date through the modification.

Statutory educational support obligation only continues until age 22. Divorce decree provided that the father would pay 1/3 of the college costs for his daughter. The daughter took some time off and did not attend college until after age 22. She submitted the bill for 1/3 of her college to her father which he did not pay. The wife filed a motion for rule to show cause. In reviewing the dissolution decree, the trial court determined that the dissolution was an acceptance and approval of a stipulation and settlement between the parties. The court found the husband in contempt. The husband appealed the determination that the dissolution was an adoption of the parties' agreement. During the proceedings neither party could remember a dissolution trial. However, the decree references a hearing and makes reference to counsel's argument. Considering this, the appeals court held that there was not substantial evidence to support the district court's conclusion that the decree is an adoption of the stipulation and settlement. Because the decree was not an adoption of an agreement, the father cannot be required to pay for his daughter's college education beyond the statutory age of 22.

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