In Iowa, both parents have a duty to support their child (or children). Although a court could order either parent to pay child support, generally the noncustodial parent makes payments. The custodial parent (parent with whom the child lives) remains responsible for child support too, but the law assumes that the custodial parent spends the required amount directly on the child.
Where the parents share custody, the parent with greater income is the one who typically makes support payments, but only at a rate that makes up the difference between what each parent must provide. This is not a punishment for making more money—it simply protects the child’s standard of living with both parents.
Typically, parents must pay child support until the child is 18, although there are some exceptions. Child support payments may be cut short or reduced when a child becomes emancipated. On the other hand, support may continue past a child’s 18th birthday if the child is still in high school full time, or if the child has a physical or mental disability requiring continued support. See Iowa Code § 598.1(2019).
In most circumstances, the amount of child support depends on the number of children to support and the income of both parents. Parents also must cover the cost of the child’s health insurance and medical care. You can estimate your fair share of support by using Iowa’s Child Support Estimator, but a court could decrease or increase child support payments based on the child’s needs and the parents’ particular circumstances.
To use the guidelines and estimator tools, you need to know both parents’ incomes and the child-custody arrangement. For income, you need to calculate both gross and net income.
A parent’s gross income is regular income from all sources. This includes your salary, wages, bonuses and commissions from your job, and ongoing retirement payments such as military pensions. A parent’s income also includes royalties, dividends and trust funds, among other returns on investments. Spousal support that you receive counts too, and where appropriate, a court could also set aside other assets to meet the child’s needs.
If you're unemployed, chances are you still have income for child support purposes in the form of workers’ compensation, unemployment, or disability benefits. A court also has the authority to impute income—meaning, assign a minimum amount of income—to a parent who voluntarily works less or not at all, unless that parent has a good reason for doing so. For example, if a parent can’t work due to a disability, then this parent will not be held responsible for additional income.
Once you have both parents’ gross income, you make deductions to determine net income for each. “Net income” is gross income minus state and federal taxes, and Medicare and social security tax deductions. You might qualify for additional deductions depending on whether you pay into a mandatory pension or for union dues, a member of the military, or if you support other children or pay child care expenses, among other things. For more information, the Iowa Judicial Branch website has a page dedicated to child support issues. See Iowa Code § 598.21B (2019).
Also, you need to know how much time each parent will spend with the child. There are a variety of ways to share parenting time, but calculations are different where the parents share equal time (joint custody), or have a split custody arrangement where the parents divide the kids between them—one parent takes the older child, while the other has the younger child, for example. Likewise, a noncustodial parent whose visitation exceeds more than 127 days per year earns certain credits that offset the amount of support.
Getting a child support order is only half the battle—you’ll also need to collect the payments. The obligor parent (parent responsible for paying child support) must pay support as directed in the court order. A parent who fails to pay child support, pays late, or pays only portions of child support could face fines and sanctions.
With all our electronic conveniences, it’s easy to pay and receive child support. Payments can be made by cash, check, bank transfer, direct deposit, Venmo, or Zelle. If your child’s other parent is not making regular child support payments, you can call the Iowa Child Support Recovery Unit’s Office for help at 1-888-229-9223.
The state presumes that child support based on the guidelines is appropriate, yet sometimes the final amount or the way it's divided would be unfair to a parent or the child. Before a child support order is in place, either parent can request a hearing to present evidence that explains why the amount of support should be increased or decreased.
A judge decides whether to deviate from the guidelines and adjust the amount of support based on the following factors:
After a child support order is in place, you still have a few options to change (modify) the amount of support. At any time, you can ask a court to add the child’s medical support—if the current order excludes it—or to adjust support payments when either parent experiences a "substantial change in circumstances."
A change is substantial when the amount of support would increase or decrease by 10% of the current rate, based on the guidelines. This commonly occurs when a parent has lost a job, received an inheritance, or the needs of the child have changed, among other reasons.
Under specific circumstances, the Child Support Recovery Unit can review support orders and make adjustments (that must be approved by a court). To find out more about the requirements and different processes for modification, see Iowa’s Department of Human Services website.
More information regarding child support and related issues is available on Child Support page.
In addition to the links above, the Iowa Judicial Branch’s website has helpful tools and information.