Iowa Divorce Basics

Learn about the rules and procedures for getting a divorce in Iowa, for both opposite-sex and same-sex married couples.

Grounds for Divorce

Iowa recognizes no fault divorces, meaning the court does not require a reason for the spouses to file for divorce. The court just requires a showing that there is a breakdown of the marriage and that there is no reasonable likelihood that marriage can be preserved.

The court may also require parties to participate in conciliation counseling within sixty days by its own motion, or if one of the parties requests it, before divorce proceedings could be continued. The court may waive the conciliation counseling requirement if there is a history of domestic violence between the couple.

Divorce grounds and procedures also apply to married same-sex couples who wish to formally dissolve their marriage.

Residency Requirement and Waiting Period

To file for divorce in Iowa, the person filing for divorce must have been a resident of the state for at least one year. The divorce may be filed in the county where either spouse lives.

The court will not issue a divorce decree unless 90 days have passed from the day that the second spouse received the divorce papers.

Property Division in Iowa

Iowa courts divide marital property according to an equitable distribution system. This means that the judge divides property fairly, though the division doesn’t have to be equal. A judge would look at different factors in deciding how to distribute the property, including the length of marriage, the property brought to the marriage by each party, the contributions of the parties to the marriage, and each party’s age, physical and emotional health, earning capacity, economic circumstances, and any written agreements between the spouses, such as a prenuptial agreement.  

If the couple has a valid prenuptial agreement that addresses property division at divorce, then the judge would most likely follow that agreement.

Alimony

After a divorce, one of the parties may receive alimony, also called maintenance, from the other spouse.  To determine the amount of support that a spouse receives and the period of time that support is paid, the judge will look at the length of the marriage, the distribution of property, and the education level and earning capacity of both parties.

Child Support

By Iowa law, parents are required to provide support for their children. During a divorce or child support case, the judge will look at both parents’ gross income as well as any other obligations they have, such as other children, or if they are paying for health insurance or child care for their child.

The Iowa court follows the child support guidelines provided by Iowa’s Child Support Program.  Courts are bound to follow these guidelines unless the result would be unjust or inappropriate.  Child support orders may be modified if there is a significant change in circumstances, including a change in employment, change in the number of dependents for a party, or changes in the medical expenses of a party, among others.

Child Custody

The court will award custody based on the best interest of the child, and may award joint physical custody, joint legal custody, sole custody or visitation to each parent. Along with other factors, the judge will consider the wishes of the child and the parents, whether the parents can communicate with each other, as well as the psychological and emotional needs of the child.  

In cases where one parent has joint or sole legal custody and physical care of the child and wants to move more than 150 miles with the child, then the court might change the custody order. This is to make sure that the child can preserve the relationship with the non-moving parent. In these cases, the court can change the original custody arrangement so that the child will have a longer visitation period during school breaks, or it may even order scheduled telephone calls. If there have been incidents in the past where one of the parents did not follow the visitation arrangement, then the judge might also order a cash bond to make sure that the parents honor the new visitation or communication agreement.

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