Adultery in Iowa: Does Cheating Affect Alimony?

Learn how adultery will affect the judge’s decisions about your Iowa divorce case, including alimony, child custody, and child support.

By , Attorney · Brigham Young University J. Reuben Clark Law School

If you're getting a divorce in Iowa, and you or your spouse was unfaithful during your marriage, you might be wondering how cheating affects alimony. This article provides an overview of Iowa's alimony laws and how one spouse's adultery can impact a potential alimony award.

Alimony in Iowa

Alimony, also called "spousal support" in Iowa, is money paid by one spouse to the other as part of a divorce. Alimony isn't awarded in every case. However, judges often use alimony awards to balance apparent inequities in the spouses' post-divorce earning capabilities and financial situations.

For example, a judge might award alimony to a spouse who gave up a college education so the other spouse could become a heart surgeon—the spouse who gave up college might struggle to make ends meet after a divorce while the other spouse continues to enjoy a lucrative career. Judges use alimony to make sure that no one is left destitute as a result solely of getting divorced.

In Iowa, judges can require the paying spouse (obligor) to make alimony payments to the recipient spouse (obligee) for a temporary period or permanently, until the obligor dies or the obligee remarries. To learn more about how alimony is determined and calculated in Iowa, see Understanding and Calculating Alimony in Iowa.

What Role Does Adultery Play in an Iowa Divorce?

Iowa is a no-fault divorce state. Like virtually every other state, a couple can seek a divorce in Iowa without proving fault. This means that even when one spouse was unfaithful and committed adultery, the court doesn't need to know about it in a no-fault divorce. To seek a divorce on no-fault grounds, a spouse needs to claim only that the marriage is irretrievably broken. (Iowa Code § 598.5 (2021).) In fact, Iowa does not recognize fault-based grounds for divorce—in other words, you can't blame your divorce on your spouse's adultery, even if you wanted to.

How Does Adultery Affect Alimony Awards in Iowa?

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." The result is that Iowa divorce courts decide to award alimony based only on whether the spouse seeking alimony needs financial aid and whether the other spouse can pay.

Iowa family court judges consider only the following factors when deciding the amount of alimony awards:

  • the length of the marriage
  • each spouse's age and physical and mental health
  • how property is being divided in the divorce
  • each spouse's education, employability, and ability to self-support
  • the earning capacity of the spouse seeking alimony, including vocational training, employment skills, work experience, length of absence from the job market, and responsibilities for minor children
  • each spouse's custody and child support responsibilities
  • the tax consequences of any award on each spouse
  • any mutual agreement made by the spouses concerning financial or service contributions by one party with the expectation of future reciprocation or compensation by the other party
  • the terms of a premarital agreement, if any, and
  • any other relevant factor.

(Iowa Code § 598.21A (2021).)

Although a judge won't consider a spouse's adultery when deciding alimony, one spouse's affair can indirectly affect property division and alimony in a divorce. Specifically, if your spouse spent marital funds on trips, gifts, and jewelry for a lover, a judge can take that spending into consideration and give the adulterous spouse a smaller share of the marital estate.

Can You Go to Jail for Adultery in Iowa?

Sometimes called the "Iowa homewrecker law," at one point in history, adultery was a criminal offense in Iowa. The law changed in the 1970s, and adultery is no longer a crime in Iowa.

Does Adultery Affect Child Support or Custody Decisions in Iowa?

Judges won't consider one parent's adulterous affair when making a custody or child support decision in your Iowa divorce. Instead, deciding what is in the best interest of the child is central to every child custody decision in Iowa. Decisions about what is in a child's best interests are influenced by factors such as the child's relationship with each parent, each parent's stability, and the child's ties to the community—not whether the parents remained faithful during their marriage.

For more information about child support in Iowa, check out the Iowa Department of Human Service's Iowa Child Support Recovery Unit's website.

Additional Resources

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 review your local district court site on the Iowa Judicial Branch page. You can also browse the Iowa Legal Aid site for resources and assistance designed to help low-income Iowans with legal problems—it includes a section dedicated to family and juvenile matters.