If you're beginning a divorce and you're already dreading the expense and the emotional turmoil of the process, take heart—you might be able to avoid most or all of it if you and your spouse can compromise. Iowa couples who have an amicable relationship and can work together might be able to obtain an "uncontested" or a "no-contest divorce."
In contrast, a contested divorce is one where the spouses cannot agree on one or more significant issues in the divorce, like how to divide marital property and whether either spouse should pay spousal support. In a contested divorce, a judge will hold a trial, examine the evidence, and call witnesses.
An uncontested divorce is much faster and cheaper than a traditional divorce—spouses can often use a DIY solution like an online divorce service. They do, though, also have the option of getting professional help.
Couples can seek an uncontested divorce if they are in total agreement on all issues in their case. An uncontested divorce is usually a quicker divorce process because it means that you and your spouse have already resolved all divorce-related issues, like property division, allocation of debts, custody, parenting time (visitation), alimony, and child support. If you don't agree on all the issues, then a judge will have to resolve issues at trial.
Iowa doesn't have a special, expedited process for uncontested divorces. However, if you and your spouse are able to agree on all the issues, your case will move through the court system much more quickly than if you had to go to trial.
Before you can file for divorce in Iowa, either your spouse must be an Iowa resident, or you must have been living in the state for at least one year. In other words, if you're the petitioner (spouse filing for divorce) you don't have to be an Iowa resident if your spouse is a resident of the state and is personally served in Iowa. However, if your spouse lives out of state, you can't file for divorce in Iowa unless you've been living there for at least one year.
Once you've filed your dissolution of marriage papers, you have to wait 90 days until a judge will finalize your divorce. This 90-day waiting period applies even if you and your spouse are seeking a no-contest divorce in Iowa and have agreed on all terms. In very limited circumstances (such as emergencies) a judge may waive the 90-day period and grant your divorce sooner.
Within your dissolution of marriage paperwork, you'll need the provide the court with a legal reason ("grounds") for the divorce. Iowa is known as a "no fault" divorce state. This means that if you're divorcing, the only thing that matters is if there's been an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage (meaning, the marriage is so badly damaged that it can't be saved). You don't need to talk about any of the specifics of who or what went wrong in your marriage. (Iowa Code § 598.5 (2020).)
Before you begin your paperwork, you'll need an understanding of the court system in Iowa. Iowa doesn't have specialized family courts. Instead, it has a set of trial courts known as district courts.
Each district court serves different counties. A district court judge has the power to hear any type of case, including divorce. Your divorce will be decided by a district court judge, but if there's an issue you want to appeal later, you will go to the Iowa Court of Appeals or the Iowa Supreme Court.
You're responsible for knowing where to file your papers. If you file in the wrong place, your case could be tossed out and you might have to start over. The Iowa Judicial Branch website has a court directory you can use to find and contact your local district court.
Because Iowa doesn't have a special process for uncontested divorces, there aren't special form sets you can use for your uncontested divorce. You'll use the same online Iowa divorce forms for an uncontested divorce that you would use for a traditional one.
Iowa's Judicial Branch site only offers online divorce forms for couples without minor children. If you have children, you'll need to talk to the clerk of court about where to get the documents you need. Alternatively, you can use an online solution like DivorceNet's Online Divorce, which fills out the forms for you
It's important to complete your divorce paperwork carefully. Mistakes could cost you and might delay your divorce. When your paperwork is complete, take it to your local courthouse and be prepared to pay a filing fee.
If you're unable to pay the filing fee, you can ask the court clerk for a fee waiver form. If you meet the criteria, a judge will waive the filing fees in your case. However, you still may be responsible for process server fees.
Once your dissolution paperwork is filed, you'll receive a case number. Keep this number handy. You should arrange to have your spouse personally served with the divorce paperwork. This means that a process server or sheriff must personally hand-deliver the documents to your spouse.
If you're seeking an uncontested divorce, that means you and your spouse have already worked out all the issues in your case. You and your spouse need to memorialize your agreement in writing either on your own or with the help of a mediator and/or attorneys.
You and your spouse can work out a written divorce agreement before or during the 90-day waiting period. If all the other required documents have been filed, the waiting period has passed, and you've settled all the issues, then a judge may be able to sign the final divorce order without requiring you to come to court.