If you and your spouse have decided to end your marriage due to one spouse's adultery, you may have questions about the divorce proceeding in general. Specifically, you may be wondering whether the adultery will impact any aspect of the divorce.
This article provides an overview of alimony in Iowa and reviews whether either spouse's adultery can impact an alimony award. If you still have questions after reading this article, you should contact an experienced family law attorney for advice.
Alimony (which is also called “spousal support” and “maintenance” in Iowa) is the money that one spouse ("the obligor") pays to the other ("the obligee") after the divorce. The purpose of alimony is to achieve approximate financial equality in situations where divorce would leave one spouse destitute, but would allow the other spouse to live more comfortably.
Say, for example, that one of the spouses in an Iowa divorce waited tables at a Des Moines truck stop for twenty years to pay off the other spouse’s law school tuition. If the divorce was finalized and the spouses were left to their own devices and instructed to be self-supporting, there would be a huge disparity in their earning power. One spouse would thrive on a fat salary from a law firm, while the other struggled to survive on tips and restaurant wages. This would be an obvious inequality. Alimony is the legal method for preventing those kinds of inequalities and making sure that everyone gets back on their feet after a divorce.
In Iowa, judges can issue a final divorce order that requires obligors to pay alimony for a temporary period or even indefinitely (permanently) until a major intervening event happens, like the obligor’s death or the remarriage of the obligee.
To learn more about how alimony is determined and calculated in Iowa, see Understanding and Calculating Alimony in Iowa.
Iowa is a “no-fault” divorce state. This means that it doesn’t matter who’s responsible for the divorce or why the couple wants to end the marriage. For example, if one spouse was unfaithful and committed adultery (defined as a legally married spouse having a sexual relationship with another person outside of the marriage), the court doesn’t need to know about it.
All that matters is that one or both spouses state in the divorce paperwork that “there has been a breakdown of the marriage relationship” and that there is “no reasonable likelihood that the marriage can be preserved.” This means that the marriage is broken beyond repair. If the marriage is irretrievably broken, the court will grant a divorce—no questions asked.
No-fault divorce is a modern trend, and not all states use it. In places which follow the older approach, known as “fault-based” states, “marital misconduct” is considered in the divorce. “Marital misconduct” is wrongdoing committed by a “guilty spouse” against an “innocent spouse.” Examples include chemical dependency, abuse, fraud, abandonment, and adultery.
But judges in Iowa don't consider evidence of adultery when deciding whether to grant a divorce. They only need to know if there’s been an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. So the question then becomes whether judges consider adultery when they make other divorce decisions, like whether to award alimony.
Marital fault, including adultery, plays no role in an Iowa judge’s decision about alimony. The Iowa appellate courts specifically addressed this issue in an important case, In re the Marriage of Orgren, 375 N.W.2d 710, 712 (Iowa. Ct. App. 1985). There, the court noted that “we recognize that in making an alimony award, the fault of either party is not to be considered” because “the key to whether alimony should be awarded is support.” This means that Iowa divorce courts don’t consider adultery in alimony cases because their focus is on whether the obligee needs financial aid and whether the obligor is capable of providing it.
Therefore, instead of looking at adultery and other kinds of marital misconduct, family court judges are limited to consideration of the following factors when making decisions about alimony:
If you have questions about alimony and adultery in Iowa, please contact an experienced family law attorney for help.
For self-help purposes, you can look at the self-help section of the Iowa Judicial Branch website and at the official family law instructions and forms. You can also browse the Iowa Legal Aid site for resources and assistance designed to help low-income Iowans with legal problems. Finally, you can search the Iowa Code to read the laws for yourself.