Grounds for Divorce in Iowa

Learn about Iowa's divorce process.

By , Attorney

It's no secret that an astounding number of marriages end in divorce. If you're facing this complicated legal process, it's important for you to understand your options and what role you will play throughout.

What Are Grounds for Divorce?

Courts re​quire divorcing spouses to identify a legal ground (reason) to terminate the marriage. When you prepare your petition for divorce, you will have to list the specific reason for your request. Some states continue to allow spouses to pursue a fault divorce, which is where you claim that your spouse's marital misconduct caused the breakup. Although they vary from state to state, the most common fault grounds include adultery, abuse, and abandonment.
All states allow spouses to pursue some form of a no-fault divorce, which is based on a separation for a certain amount of time and/or irreconcilable differences, meaning the couple simply cannot get along anymore and have no chance for a reconciliation. The hallmark of the no-fault divorce is that you don't have to point fingers or allege that either spouse caused the marriage to fail.

Iowa Only Allows No-Fault Divorce

Iowa is a pure no-fault divorce state, which means that you can only file for divorce because there has been a breakdown of the marital relationship and there is no reasonable likelihood that the marriage can be preserved. In other words, you've given it your best, but it's just not working, and it's neither spouse's fault.

Marriage, including the reason for the breakdown, is very personal and subjective. In most states, the court is satisfied when the spouse asking for the divorce and filing the paperwork (plaintiff) states that the marriage is so damaged that no amount of effort will fix it. Most judges don't want to insert an opinion on a total stranger's marriage and will grant the divorce when either spouse doesn't want to continue with the marriage.

On the contrary, in Iowa it's not enough just to state in the court documents that the marriage is over. Before a court will grant your request for a divorce, you must convince the judge that your relationship is over, which means you need to provide evidence. Some couples use testimony from friends and family who have been involved in the breakup, or you can give the court a copy of written documents, like text messages, that demonstrate that you and your spouse are no longer compatible as spouses.

For example, in one case, a wife filed for divorce citing a breakdown of the marriage without a possibility of reconciliation. In addition to telling the court that she no longer wanted to be married, she asked a neighbor to testify that she had seen little of the parties in the 3 years prior to trial. The witness also testified that she believed the marriage was too damaged for repair. Neither spouse disagreed with this testimony, which satisfied the court, and a judge granted the divorce.

What If I Don't Have Proof?

The legislators in Iowa didn't pass the laws to make divorce impossible, but it does make it more difficult than other states. If you're concerned that you can't provide enough proof of the status of your marriage to the court, don't despair. You can explain with your own testimony why the relationship didn't work.

For instance, when a wife filed for divorce against her husband, she testified to the court that her husband forced the family to live in poor living conditions, that her husband failed to provide necessities for herself and the children, and that he was physically abusive. This testimony was enough to convince the court that the marriage was damaged beyond repair, and the judge granted the divorce.

Is Uncontested Divorce an Option?

Yes. Iowa courts give couples the option of filing for divorce together, but only if they meet certain requirements. An uncontested divorce means that you and your spouse agree on all divorce-related issues. There's no expedited process for uncontested divorce, but less arguing usually results in less court time and reduced legal fees.

Common divorce-related issues include:

Before you can ask the court for an uncontested divorce, you'll need to address each of the above issues, come to a resolution with your spouse, and memorialize your agreements in writing (a marital settlement agreement). If you and your spouse disagree on any issues, the court will schedule a trial and proceed with a contested, no-fault divorce.

In every divorce (contested or uncontested) there's a mandatory 90-day waiting period from the time you file the petition (request) for divorce until the judge will approve it. Judges hope that couples will use this time to try and reconcile, but if that's not possible, you can use the waiting period to discuss and agree on the major issues.

What Are the Other Divorce Requirements?

Whether you file a contested or uncontested divorce, you'll need to meet your state's residency requirement. In Iowa, the plaintiff must live in the state for a minimum of 12 months before filing for divorce. If your spouse lives in Iowa and you don't, you can file in Iowa without living in the state.

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