In the State of Iowa, a divorce is technically known as a "dissolution of marriage." A dissolution of marriage is identical to a divorce—both end your marriage once they're finalized.
In order to start the divorce process while representing yourself, you'll need to complete some forms. You can obtain some of the forms online, from the Iowa Judicial Branch's Self-Help website. These are official forms, but you should double-check with your local court to make sure the judges there will accept them.
Be thorough and complete in responding to the questions. Fill out the forms on a computer if you can. If not, write or print neatly and legibly.
Iowa has two basic sets of online divorce forms for self-represented people to use. There are different forms couples should use when they don't have any minor children (meaning, underage children who are financially dependent on you).
If you have minor children then you'll use the separate set of forms for couples seeking a divorce with minor children. The filing fees for each set of forms are the same as of 2019. Contact the clerk of court in your county for more information.
Iowa's Judicial Website has a simple, step-by-step guide walking you through the divorce process. The way that you fill out the forms depends, in part, on whether you are the "petitioner" (the spouse who initiates the divorce) or the "respondent" (the spouse who is served with divorce papers).
It's important to note that you're required to use these forms if you're divorcing and you don't have children.
If you have children, you can expect to complete documents that are similar to the ones outlined above. For example, if you are the petitioner, you'll need to complete, file, and serve a petition regardless of whether you have children.
The contents of the petition, however, may be different. Or if you have children, you'll need to complete other documents regarding child support and additional documentation pertaining to child custody and visitation.
The clerk of court can help you determine what documents you'll need, but keep in mind that you still have to complete them yourself, without the assistance of the clerk.
If you're the petitioner, it's time to print your forms and make copies. Make two photocopies of the petition and original notice for personal service if you're going to mail them to your spouse, or make three copies if you are going to have a sheriff or process server physically hand the documents to the respondent. You don't have to make any photocopies of the coversheet or confidential information form. In fact, make sure you don't give a copy of the confidential information form to the respondent by mistake.
Next, go to your local courthouse (the one where you or your spouse are living) and ask to file the original documents and the photocopies. You'll need to pay a divorce filing fee unless you complete the Application and Affidavit to Defer Payment of Costs (Form FL-109) and the court agrees that the fee should be waived because you're indigent (meaning, you can't afford it).
The clerk will take all your original papers and put them in a court file. The clerk will also time-stamp the papers, including the photocopies, and sign the original notice form.
Ask the clerk to give you a Report of Dissolution of Marriage or Annulment form. Fill in everything but items 18 through 22, which the clerk will fill in.
If you're the respondent, it's critical to know that you only have 20 days from the date you received the petition to file your answer in the court where the petition was filed. If you don't make the 20 day deadline, the court can enter a default judgment against you. This means that the court can make decisions without any input from you.
When you've finished filing your papers with the court, it's time to deliver a copy to your spouse who will be the respondent. It's important for the petitioner to do this as soon as possible, because if the divorce papers aren't served on the respondent within 90 days of filing, the petitioner's case will be dismissed (terminated).
Sending your spouse a copy of all the forms constitutes "service of process," which gives your spouse notice about the divorce case and an opportunity to appear in court.
There are a few options for serving divorce papers. First, if you think the respondent will be cooperative, you can deliver the forms yourself, in person or through regular first class U.S. Mail. You'll need to include the Acceptance of Service document (Form FL-105) and the respondent will need to sign it so you can file it with the court as proof of service.
Second, you can ask your sheriff or a private process server to physically hand the documents to the respondent (known as "personal service") and complete the Directions for Service of Original Notice (Form FL-106). The sheriff or process server will then file the proof of service with the court.
Once you've served your spouse, you (or the process server) will need to file the appropriate proof of service form (contained in the petitioner's forms packet) with the court.
If you need to serve a respondent who is hard to locate, in jail, in the military, or in another state, you should check with the clerk of court for more information.
As soon as possible, both spouses should complete and exchange the Financial Affidavit (Form FL-124). This required document is a sworn statement that outlines income, expenses, assets, and debts. This helps everyone to understand the full economic situation and assists the court in making fair decisions when dividing marital property and deciding support. Make sure you're clear, detailed, and candid when you complete this form.
When you're representing yourself in a divorce, it's important that you take steps to protect yourself.
Iowa Legal Aid, a nonprofit organization that helps low-income Iowa residents with legal problems, has additional resources for Iowa residents seeking a divorce. For more information about Iowa Legal Aid's services, you can call 1-800-532-1275.
Additionally, Iowa Legal Aid has also prepared a brochure on divorce law explaining how to use the official court forms when you're filing for divorce and don't have children. See also IA Code § § 598.1 through 598.42 (2019).