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Iowa Family Law on Domestic Violence

Although the precise definition of domestic violence (referred to as "domestic abuse" in Iowa) varies from state to state, the crime generally encompasses abuse, or the threat of abuse, committed between household members. Committing acts of domestic violence can greatly impact an abuser's family law rights, most notably regarding child custody. This article outlines Iowa's main family laws on domestic violence.

Domestic Abuse

The table below illustrates how domestic abuse is defined in Iowa.

Code Section

Iowa Code chapter 236: Domestic Abuse

What's Prohibited?

Committing "assault" under any of the following circumstances:
  • An assault between family or household members who live together
  • An assault between separated or divorced spouses who don't live together
  • An assault between people who are parents of the same minor child
  • An assault between family or household members who lived together within the past year but aren't living together at the time of the assault
  • An assault between people who are in an "intimate relationship," or have been in an intimate relationship, and have been in contract within the past year

Definition of "Assault"


A person commits an assault when, without justification, the person does any of the following:
  • Any act intended to cause pain or injury, or which is intended to result in physical contact which will be insulting or offensive to another, coupled with the apparent ability to execute the act
  • Any act intended to place another in fear of immediate physical contact which will be painful, injurious, insulting, or offensive, coupled with the apparent ability to execute the act, or
  • Intentionally pointing a firearm towards another, or displaying a dangerous weapon in a threatening manner

What Qualifies as an "Intimate Relationship?"


When determining whether two people are or have been in an intimate relationship, the court may consider the following:

  • The duration of the relationship
  • The frequency of interaction
  • Whether the relationship has been terminated, and
  • The nature of the relationship, characterized by either party's expectation of sexual or romantic involvement

Note that a person may be involved in an intimate relationship with more than one person at a time.

Domestic Abuse and Child Custody

Courts attempt to issue child custody awards in accordance with the best interests of the child. Where it is reasonable to do so, courts in Virginia award joint custody of the child to both parents so that the child will have continuing physical and emotional contact with both parents after the parents have separated or dissolved their marriage.

However, if the court finds that a history of domestic abuse exists, there is a rebuttable presumption against awarding joint custody. Additionally, if a parent is a victim of domestic abuse and moves or is absent from the family home out of fear of being abused by the other parent, the court won't consider the relocation or absence of that parent as a factor against that parent in awarding custody or visitation.

Where Can I Get Help?

If you are a domestic violence survivor there is help available for you. During an emergency dial 911, and when you're safe contact the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Additional Resources

State laws change frequently. For case specific information regarding Iowa's family law on domestic violence contact a local family law attorney or criminal defense lawyer.

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