If you're beginning a divorce and you're already dreading the expense and the emotional turmoil of the process, take heart—you might be able to avoid most or all of it if you're a candidate for what’s known as an “uncontested divorce.”
This article will explain uncontested divorces in Iowa. If you still have questions after reading this article, you should consult with an experienced family law attorney.
An uncontested divorce simply means that you and your spouse agree on all of your divorce-related issues, like property division, allocation of debts, custody, parenting time (visitation), alimony and child support. If you don't agree on all the issues, then the court will schedule a trial.
Iowa doesn't have a special, expedited process for uncontested divorces. However, if you and your spouse are able to agree on all the issues, your case will move through the court system much more quickly than if you had to go to trial.
You can only file for divorce in Iowa if you've been living there for the last year. It doesn't matter how long your spouse has been living in Iowa.
You also have to give the court a legal reason (“grounds”) to grant the divorce. Iowa is known as a "no fault" divorce state. This means that if you're divorcing, the only thing that matters is if there's been an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage (meaning, the marriage is so badly damaged that it can't be saved). You don't need to talk about any of the specifics of what went wrong in your marriage.
Before you begin your paperwork, you'll need to understand how the court system works in Iowa.
Iowa doesn't have specialized family courts. Instead, it has a set of trial courts known as district courts. Each district court serves different counties. A district court judge has the power to hear any type of case, including divorces. Your divorce will be decided by a district court judge, but if there's an issue you want to appeal later, you will go to the Iowa Court of Appeals or the Iowa Supreme Court.
You’re responsible for knowing where to file your papers. If you file in the wrong place, your case could be tossed out and you might have to start over. The Iowa Judicial Branch has a website you can use to locate the correct court depending on your location.
There are very detailed laws and instructions for getting divorced in Iowa, and you must follow them exactly. Take your time and work carefully. Type everything on a computer or write or print neatly. If you rush through the papers and make mistakes, the judge may have questions or concerns about your paperwork and might call you to appear in court for a final hearing to address the problems.
Because Iowa doesn't have a special process for uncontested divorces, there aren't special form sets you can use for your uncontested divorce. You have to use the regular forms and instructions. Iowa only provides an official electronic form set for people who don't have children. If you have children, you can't use those forms and you'll need to talk to the clerk of court about where to get the papers you need.
All divorces start when the petitioner (the spouse who initiates the divorce by filing a summons and petition) servesthe legal papers on the respondent (the other spouse). At that point, a 90-day waiting period begins before the court does anything further. The waiting period is mandatory, but a judge can shorten it if there's a very good reason, like an emergency.
You and your spouse can work out a written agreement before or during the 90-day waiting period. If all the other required documents have been filed, the waiting period has passed, and you've settled all the issues, then a judge may agree to sign the final divorce order without requiring you to come to court.
If you plan to represent yourself, you will want to check out the following websites for useful information: Self-Representation in Iowa, Iowa Divorce Law Overview, Iowa Divorce Law Forms and Instructions, Iowa Legal Aid websiteand the Divorce Law Handbook.
Remember: the court clerks who work in the courthouse can’t give you any legal advice. If you have questions about the uncontested divorce process, you should consult with an experienced family law attorney
Iowa Code (see Title XV, Subtitle 1, Domestic Relations)