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Iowa Divorce Laws

If you live in Iowa and are considering divorce, it’s a good idea to become familiar with Iowa divorce laws. The Iowa divorce process is complex. Some laypeople have a hard time navigating the family courts. This is why many people hire an experienced attorney to help with their divorce cases.

Here, we’ll explain the divorce laws in Iowa. We’ll also discuss how Iowa law treats things like spousal support, child custody, and equitable distribution of marital property. We will also provide helpful links to articles to discuss these topics in greater detail.

For a quick reference to the divorce laws in the State of Iowa, refer to the chart below.

Legal Requirements for Divorce in Iowa

Every jurisdiction must follow the state laws governing the divorce process. For instance, all states have residency requirements you must meet before filing your divorce petition. You must be a resident of Iowa for at least one year before filing for divorce.

There is one exception to the Iowa residency requirement. If the respondent spouse is a resident of Iowa and receives personal service of process, the petitioner does not have to be a resident of Iowa for a year before filing.

Many states also have a waiting period. The Iowa Code calls for a 90-day waiting period. The family law judge cannot issue a final divorce decree until at least 90 days after the divorce papers have been served.

The courts require this waiting period so the parties have a cooling-off period to think about what they're planning on doing. The Iowa code allows the court to waive this requirement in certain emergency situations.

Legislators and the family courts try to allow every couple the chance to reconcile and save their marriage. With a mandatory waiting period, spouses have the opportunity for conciliation.

Types of Divorce in Iowa

As with most other states, Iowa law offers two types of divorce - uncontested and contested. With an uncontested divorce, the parties agree to divorce and agree to the divorce terms. All they have to do is submit a marital settlement agreement to the court for approval. Once the judge approves the agreement, they will issue a final decree of divorce.

A contested divorce is quite different. Here, the parties disagree on the divorce terms. Or, one of the parties may not wish to divorce at all. Throughout the divorce proceedings, the courts offer a variety of tools to help the couple negotiate a final divorce agreement.

In a contested divorce, the parties may disagree on some or all of the following issues:

  • Alimony/Spousal support
  • Child Custody and Visitation
  • Child support payments
  • Property division (including real estate)
  • Disposition of the family home

If your divorce attorney can't negotiate these issues with your spouse’s lawyer, the judge will schedule a trial. During the trial, both sides present evidence and argue the case to the judge.

The judge will decide the outstanding issues and issue their final judgment. The final divorce decree will become a court order. It is enforceable like any other court order.

Fault-Based and No-Fault Divorce Laws

All states, including Iowa, allow no-fault divorce. Under a no-fault divorce, you don't have to accuse your spouse or prove any specific wrongdoing on their part to get a divorce. Instead, you only have to demonstrate a breakdown of the marriage. You must also certify that there is no likelihood of preserving the marriage.

As a no-fault state, Iowa law doesn’t recognize traditional grounds for divorce. Therefore, you don’t need to cite specific misconduct in your petition for dissolution of marriage.

Child Custody and Child Support

Iowa determines child custody using the best interests of the child standard. It's ideal if you and your spouse can work out custody of the children. In most divorce cases, one parent becomes the custodial parent. The other parent maintains a visitation schedule with the minor children.

The non-custodial parent typically pays child support to the other parent. The court calculates the amount of support using the state’s child support guidelines.

If you and your spouse agree on child custody, include your parenting plan in your divorce papers.

Unless extenuating circumstances exist, both parents share joint legal custody of their kids. They both have a say in decision-making for their children.

Alimony and Spousal Support in Iowa

The Iowa courts recognize four types of alimony: traditional, rehabilitative, reimbursement, and transitional alimony. When you file your papers with the clerk of court, you must make your demand for alimony.

Traditional alimony is often permanent or long-term. It lasts as long as the receiving spouse is incapable of self-support.

The court may order rehabilitative alimony for the lower-earning spouse to become self-supporting by going back to school or receiving job training. There is often a specific duration of alimony in your settlement agreement.

A third type of alimony called reimbursement repays one spouse for their economic contributions to their spouse’s career and education.

The final type is transitional alimony, which has only recently been recognized by the Iowa courts. This type of support is to provide short-term assistance to the receiving spouse as they transition from being married to single.

The court will consider several factors when determining alimony:

  • Length of the marriage
  • Earning capacity of the parties
  • Physical and emotional health of the spouses
  • Age of the parties
  • Standard of living during the marriage
  • Property division as a result of the divorce
  • Tax consequences of paying/receiving support
  • Contribution to childcare during and after the marriage

The courts don't often consider marital misconduct when deciding alimony. However, the alimony statute allows the court the discretion to consider other factors it deems relevant to making the determination.

Property Division During Divorce

Iowa is an equitable distribution state. This means the court will divide marital property and debts as they see fit. There is no guarantee that the parties will receive equal shares of the marital assets. In fact, unlike many other states, the court will divide all property, regardless of when you acquired it. The courts will treat the property the parties brought into the marriage as marital property. 

The only properties that are exempt from division are gifts and inheritances that are either received before or during the marriage.

Iowa Divorce Laws Overview

The chart below lists the details of Iowa's divorce laws. If certain aspects still aren't clear, consider speaking with an Iowa divorce attorney.

Iowa Divorce Code Section

§ 598, et seq. of the Iowa Code – Dissolution of Marriage

Residency Requirements

Unless the respondent is a resident and given personal service, the petitioner must have been a resident for the last year

Waiting Period

90 days after service of original notice (time may be shortened by the court in an emergency)

No-Fault Grounds for Divorce

Irretrievable breakdown

Defenses to a Divorce Filing

Since Iowa is a purely no-fault state there are no defenses. The respondent spouse, however, may disagree that the marriage is irretrievably broken.

Other Grounds for Divorce


Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, higher court rulings, ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information, please consult an attorney or conduct research to verify your state’s laws.

Getting Divorced in Iowa? You'll Probably Want Legal Help

Getting divorced is never a fun experience. It can be downright stressful for everyone involved. It’s wise to consult an Iowa divorce lawyer to help with your case. Whether you’re fighting for alimony or child custody, a family law attorney can help.

Get a head start today and find an experienced Iowa divorce attorney for legal advice.

Iowa Divorce Laws: Related Resources

A divorce can be emotionally tumultuous and legally complex as well. You can find additional articles and resources in FindLaw's section on divorce.

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