Overview of Iowa Divorce Law

DIVORCE (“Dissolution of Marriage”) and CHILD CUSTODY are the most common types of issues handled by family law attorneys.

To assist you as you face a divorce we have provided a discussion of frequently asked questions about divorce – covering issues such as property and debt division, alimony (spousal support), how a divorce case is processed, and more.

Listen to Judge Larry Eisenhauer discuss “Dissolution of Marriage” (Divorce) in this informative YouTube video.


Video Transcription

Many couples in Iowa seeking a divorce face unfamiliar terms and issues regarding their dissolution of marriage. Understanding the process will help you as you navigate an emotional situation. The Iowa State Bar Association has created this video to provide you with information about issues and terms involved in a dissolution of marriage. It is not an attempt to provide legal advice and in fact the ISBA would encourage you to consult with your attorney regarding your case to ensure your rights and interests are protected.

The first question generally ask is, “Where do I file for dissolution of marriage?” and “Do I need to live in Iowa?

If the respondent spouse or opposing party is a resident of Iowa and was personally served the dissolution of marriage papers there is no residency requirement for the spouse who files the dissolution of marriage. Otherwise, there is a one-year residency requirement, meaning you must have lived in Iowa for one year. In addition, there is a 90-day waiting period before the dissolution of marriage may be finalized. This time period starts when the case is filed. The dissolution of marriage may be filed in a County where either spouse resides.

In Iowa, what are the legal grounds for dissolution of marriage (divorce)?

The only grounds are defined as the breakdown of the marriage relationship to the extent that the legitimate objects of matrimony have been destroyed and there remains no reasonable likelihood that the marriage can be preserved.

No fault is needed to obtain a dissolution of marriage.

In Iowa, what are the legal grounds for legal separation?

You may seek a legal separation in Iowa if the respondent spouse is a resident of Iowa and was personally served legal papers. There is no residency requirement for the spouse filing for a legal separation. Otherwise, there is a one-year residency requirement.

The grounds for legal separation in Iowa are the same as for a dissolution of marriage – that is that there has been a breakdown of the marriage relationship to the extent that the legitimate objects of matrimony have been destroyed and there remains no reasonable likelihood that marriage can be preserved.

There may be mediation or counseling requirements as part of the dissolution proceeding. If either spouse requests – or on the court’s own initiative – the spouses may be ordered to participate in conciliation procedures for a period of 60 days.

A course on children’s needs is required for all parents when custody is at issue within 45 days of the commencement of the case.

How will property be distributed?

The distribution of property is a critical part of a dissolution proceeding. Iowa is an equitable distribution state. The court will divide all the spouse’s property whether it was acquired before or after the marriage. The exception to this is any gifts and inheritance received prior to or during the marriage. A portion of the property may be set aside in a fund for the support maintenance and education of any minor children.

Marital fault is not a factor.

The following factors are considered in the division of property.

  • The contribution of each spouse to the acquisition of the marital property including the contribution of each spouse as a homemaker or in childcare.
  • The value of any property brought to the marriage.
  • The contribution by one party to the education training or increased earning capacity of the other.
  • The length of the marriage.
  • The age and physical and emotional health of the spouses.
  • The vocational skills of the spouses.
  • The time and expense necessary to acquire skills and training to become self-sufficient.
  • The federal income tax consequences of the court’s division of the property.
  • The time and expense necessary for a spouse to acquire sufficient education to enable the spouse to find appropriate employment.
  • Any premarital or marital settlement agreements.
  • The present and potential earning capability of each spouse including educational background training, employment skills, work experience, and length of absence from the job market.
  • Whether the property award is instead of or in addition to alimony and the amount and duration of any such alimony award.
  • The total economic circumstances of the spouses including any pension benefits.
  • The desirability of awarding the family home to the spouse with custody of any children.
  • Any custodial provisions for the children, and
  • The amount and duration of any maintenance payments

How does alimony or spousal support get awarded?

In some cases, alimony, maintenance, and spousal support is awarded as part of a dissolution proceeding. Maintenance may be granted to either spouse for a limited or indefinite time based on the following factors:

  • The time necessary to acquire sufficient education and training to enable the spouse to find appropriate employment and become self-supporting
  • The duration of the marriage
  • The financial resources of the spouse seeking alimony including marital property apportioned to each spouse and such spouses ability to meet his or her needs independently
  • The tax consequences to each spouse
  • The age of the spouses
  • The physical and emotional conditions of the spouses
  • The work experience and length of absence from the job market of the spouse seeking alimony
  • The vocational skills and employability of the spouse seeking support in alimony
  • The probable duration of the need of the spouse seeking support in alimony
  • Custodial and child support responsibilities
  • The educational level of each spouse at the time of the marriage and at the time the action for support is commenced
  • Any premarital or other agreements
  • The earning capacity of the spouse seeking maintenance including the educational background employment skills and work experience
  • Any other factors that court deems just and equitable

Marital misconduct is not a factor

Maintenance payments may be ordered to be paid through the court.

What is the requirement regarding the spouse’s name?

Upon dissolution of marriage, either spouse may request to change his or her name to a former or maiden name.

How does custody get decided in an Iowa divorce?

Many of the couples in Iowa who seek a divorce will have minor children. Because the well-being of children depends on the quality of their relationship with both parents it is important that parents understand the legal terms, laws, and court orders regarding their children. The courts play an important role in assisting with the future living arrangements for children. Joint or sole custody may be awarded in the interest of the children and in a manner that will encourage the parents to share the rights and responsibilities of raising the child. Joint custody may be awarded if either parent requests and if it is in the best interest of the child and based on the following factors

  • The ability of the parents to cooperate.
  • The ability to support the child’s relationship with the other parent.
  • The physical proximity of the parents to each other.
  • The fitness and suitability of the parents.
  • The reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of sufficient intelligence, understanding, and experience to express a preference
  • Whether both parents have actively cared for the child before and since the separation.
  • Whether the psychological and emotional needs and development of the child will suffer because of lack of contact with both parents.
  • Whether the safety of the child will be jeopardized by an award of joint custody or unsupervised visitation.
  • Whether one or both parents agree to or are opposed to joint custody, and
  • Any history of domestic abuse

The court may grant joint custody even when both parents do not agree to joint custody.

Child support can also be ordered by the court. Either or both parents may be ordered to pay a reasonable and necessary amount of child support. Child support payments may be ordered to be paid directly to the court.

Specific child support guidelines charts are available on the Iowa Courts website. The amount of child support is determined by use of the guideline chart but may be adjusted for fairness or special needs of the child.

As was pointed out at the start of this presentation if you have any questions about the dissolution of marriage the ISBA would encourage you to consult with your attorney so that you can ensure that your rights and interest are protected. If you’re uncertain of your legal rights regarding divorce, a lawyer can help you assess your case. We hope this video has provided you with some helpful tips regarding issues surrounding the dissolution of marriage. Thank you.

Child Custody is a term that includes Legal Custody, Physical Care, Care Plans, Primary Physical Care, Visitation, and Joint Physical Care (also called Shared Physical Care). Unmarried parents can file a legal action asking a court to decide paternity, each parent’s rights to care for the child(ren), and child support. Issues concerning children are included in a divorce. The law applied will be similar for divorcing and unmarried parents. To assist you as you face questions about the custody of your child(ren), we have provided a discussion of frequently asked questions about child custody.

Other Family Law issues handled by this firm:


  • Adoption, Step-Parent Adoption
  • Grandparent Visitation
  • Guardianship
  • Name Change
  • Common-Law Marriage
  • Domestic Abuse or Violence, Protective Orders, No Contact Orders
  • Injunctions
  • Paternity
  • Legal Separation, Separate Maintenance, and Support
  • Mental Health Commitments
  • Modifications of Decrees
  • Prenuptial Agreements, Antenuptial Agreements
  • Annulments
  • Military Family Issues, Child Custody for Person in the Military
  • Father’s Rights,
  • Parental rights,
  • Neglect or abuse of Dependents
  • Power of Attorney, Conservators, Trusts
  • Post Secondary Education Support
  • Child Support Collection, Child Support Modification
  • Contempt of Court
  • Medical Support, Securing Medical Insurance

Note: The discussion of Frequently Asked Questions is not meant to serve as legal advice. It only provides a general description of the law and does not go into details that might affect your case. You should seek the advice of an attorney concerning your specific situation. If you are currently or will soon be going through any of the above situations, working with a family law attorney can help reduce stress and drastically improve the probability of a positive outcome for you and your family. Contact Daniel Willems to learn more about working with a family law attorney.