IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF MICHAEL ROSS ROBERTS AND TRACEY RICHTER ROBERTS Upon the Petition of MICHAEL ROSS ROBERTS, Petitioner - Appellant, And Concerning TRACEY RICHTER ROBERTS, Respondent - Appellee.Annotate this Case
IN THE COURT OF APPEALS OF IOWA
No. 8-699 / 07-0515
Filed October 29, 2008
IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF MICHAEL ROSS ROBERTS
AND TRACEY RICHTER ROBERTS
Upon the Petition of
MICHAEL ROSS ROBERTS,
TRACEY RICHTER ROBERTS,
Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Buena Vista County, John P. Duffy,
Petitioner appeals the district court decision denying his motion to modify
the temporary child support order. AFFIRMED.
Eric Borseth and Judy Johnson of Borseth Law Office, Altoona, for
Tracey Roberts, Rembrandt, appellee pro se.
Considered by Mahan, P.J., and Vaitheswaran, J., and Robinson, S.J.*
*Senior judge assigned by order pursuant to Iowa Code section 602.9206 (2007).
Background Facts & Proceedings
Michael and Tracey Roberts were married in Australia in 1996.
subsequently moved to Iowa. The parties have two children, Noah, born in 1998,
and Mason, born in 2000. During the marriage, the parties started a company,
Mile2 mki, Inc., that sells information technology training courses. Michael was
employed as the president of the company.
On April 23, 2004, Michael filed a petition for dissolution of marriage.
Tracey requested temporary child support. Tracey filed an affidavit of financial
status stating she had income of $1000 per month in child support for another
child, and Michael had gross income of $8000 per month. Michael’s June 14,
2004 affidavit of financial status stated he had gross monthly income of $3325
per month, and Tracey had $2133 per month. Michael’s child support guidelines
worksheet, dated June 15, 2004, suggests that he pay child support of $597 per
month. Tracey did not file a child support guidelines worksheet, but filed an
affidavit stating Michael had gross monthly income of $4800 in January 2004,
and $8000 per month in February, March, and April of that year. In a deposition
on June 22, 2005, Michael stated his salary was $8000 per month. (Michael also
filed an affidavit of financial status on December 7, 2004, affirming $8500 per
month gross income.)
The district court entered a ruling on temporary matters on October 18,
The court placed the children in Tracey’s physical care, with Michael
having visitation. The court ordered Michael to pay child support of $1454 per
Michael did not stay current on his child support payments.
November 16, 2005, Michael filed an application for immediate reduction of his
child support obligation, claiming Mile2 had suffered recent financial losses, and
his obligation should be reduced. Tracey filed an application claiming Michael
was in contempt for failure to pay child support. The district court entered an
order on July 13, 2006, denying the request for a reduction in Michael’s child
support obligation, finding he “has failed to demonstrate that his reduction in
income, if any, is not self-inflicted.” On July 20, 2006, the court entered an order
finding Michael in contempt of court for failing to pay child support, and was
$6630 in arrears.1
On July 27, 2006, Tracey filed a new application citing Michael for
contempt. She asserted that he had paid the $6630 that he was in arrears, but
that he still owed $4366 in past-due child support. On August 7, 2006, Michael
filed a new application for reduction in his child support obligation.
On December 13, 2006, the district court entered an order finding Michael
in contempt for failure to pay child support, and the total amount due at that time
was $10,236. The court noted that Mile2 was still in business, and that Duane
Anderson, the receiver for the company, testified Michael received $3000 to
$4000 per month from the company. The court concluded, “Petitioner [Michael]
is receiving income from the business and is capable of paying child support as
On July 20, 2006, the district court appointed a receiver for Mile2 based on Tracey’s
allegations that Michael was mismanaging the business. Duane Anderson, an employee
of the company, was named as the receiver.
ordered.” On February 9, 2007, the court entered an order denying Michael’s
request to reduce his child support obligation, based on its findings in the
December 13, 2006 order. Michael appeals.
Standard of Review
In this equitable action our review is de novo. Iowa R. App. P. 6.4. “In
equity cases, especially when considering the credibility of witnesses, the court
gives weight to the fact findings of the district court, but is not bound by them.”
Iowa R. App. P. 6.14(6)(g).
In a modification action, the district court “has
reasonable discretion to determine whether modification is warranted and that
discretion will not be disturbed on appeal unless there is a failure to do equity.”
In re Marriage of Vetternack, 334 N.W.2d 761, 762 (Iowa 1983).
Michael first contends that the order setting temporary child support
on October 18, 2004, was improper because the court did not specifically find the
net monthly income of each party and then apply the child support guidelines.
See Iowa Ct. R. 9.4, 9.5. He asserts his child support obligation was set too high
in the first instance.
A temporary order setting child support is a final judgment, and is
appealable as a matter of right. See In re Marriage of Denly, 590 N.W.2d 48, 50
(Iowa 1999). A temporary order for financial assistance “must be appealed within
30 days from the district court decision in order to preserve the right to contest
the award of assistance.” Id. Michael did not appeal the October 18, 2004 order
setting temporary child support within thirty days. We conclude he cannot now
contest that order.
Michael also claims the district court should have found there was a
substantial change in circumstances since the October 2004 order justifying a
reduction in his child support obligation. He asserts he has had a reduction in
income because Mile2 has not been profitable. Michael contends he has not
voluntarily reduced his income, and points out it is not uncommon for new
businesses to have trouble remaining consistently profitable.
A party seeking modification must establish by a preponderance of the
evidence that there has been a substantial change in circumstances since the
entry of the decree, or its last modification. In re Marriage of Kupferschmidt, 705
N.W.2d 327, 331 (Iowa Ct. App. 2005). In this case, we determine whether there
has been a substantial change in circumstances since July 13, 2006, when the
court previously addressed Michael’s request to reduce his child support
obligation. At that time, the court found Michael had failed to show his reduction
in income was not self-inflicted.
In determining whether there has been a substantial change in
circumstances, the court may consider “[c]hanges in the employment, earning
capacity, income, or resources of a party.” Iowa Code § 598.21C(1)(a) (Supp.
2005); In re Marriage of McKenzie, 709 N.W.2d 528, 531 (Iowa 2006). However,
“a parent may not rely on a claim of decreased income to obtain a modification of
a support order if the parent’s reduced earning capacity and inability to pay
support is self-inflicted or voluntary.” In re Marriage of Swan, 526 N.W.2d 320,
323 (Iowa 1995).
Where a parent’s reduction in income is the result of an
improper intent to deprive children of support, we may refuse to modify the
parent’s child support obligation. See In re Marriage of Rietz, 585 N.W.2d 226,
229-30 (Iowa 1998); In re Marriage of Walters, 575 N.W.2d 739, 741 (Iowa
At the time of the February 7, 2007 hearing on Michael’s request for
modification, Michael still held the title of president of Mile2, and was recognized
as the owner of the company. Michael was spending much of his time in the
country of Finland, with his paramour.
Due to Michael’s absence and the
receivership, Anderson was making the company’s payments. Anderson testified
the company’s finances were such that he could not afford to pay Michael more
than $3000 or $4000 per month. Anderson stated Anderson received $60,000
per year, and Michael was capable of doing his job, and in fact had done so prior
to the receivership.
We conclude the district court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to
modify Michael’s temporary child support obligation. Michael was the owner of
Mile2 and could have decided to pay himself a greater salary. There is evidence
in the record to support the court’s decision that Michael’s reduction in income
was self-inflicted or voluntary.
Michael seeks attorney fees for this appeal. We determine each party
should pay his or her own appellate attorney fees. Costs of this appeal are
assessed to Michael.