Divorce Law on Alimony or Spousal Support in Iowa

by Stephanie Reid
Failure to make alimony payments can result in garnishment of wages.

Failure to make alimony payments can result in garnishment of wages.

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For couples divorcing in Iowa, an alimony award can help maintain a spouse's financial stability. It is not uncommon for one spouse to have a greater earning potential than the other, so divorce courts routinely determine an equitable amount that one spouse is ordered to pay to the other each month. An award of alimony, or spousal support as it is referred to in Iowa, is separate and distinct from child support and can last indefinitely or for a short time.

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Types of Alimony

Iowa law recognizes three distinct types of alimony awards. Traditional alimony is awarded in cases involving a "traditional marriage" where one spouse worked outside of the home while the other performed the majority of the homemaking responsibilities. This type of alimony is potentially payable for life; it helps support the nonworking spouse, who is likely to be less employable due to a lack of experience or training. Alternatively, rehabilitative alimony is available for a limited period of time while the spouse gains education or training that will increase marketability in the workforce. The short duration of this alimony is meant to act as an incentive for the recipient spouse to become self-supporting. Reimbursement alimony is awarded in marriages of short duration in which one spouse was entirely dedicated to supporting the education and career of the other. These payments are made to reimburse that spouse's economic sacrifices during the marriage.

Factors for Alimony

When a spouse petitions for alimony, the court must weigh a number of factors to determine if it is appropriate and in what amount. Iowa judges look at the duration of the marriage; age and physical health of the parties; distribution of marital property; and petitioning spouse's earning capacity, education, skills or length of absence from the job market. The court also considers the likelihood that the petitioning spouse will be able to find gainful employment after the divorce and the length of time it will take to achieve that goal. Prenuptial and postnuptial agreements are also considered, along with relevant tax consequences.

Effect of Property Distribution

Property acquired during a marriage, known as marital property, must be divided between the parties upon divorce. The outcome of this division can directly affect the court's decision regarding alimony. For example, if a profit-sharing or trust account is awarded to one spouse in the divorce, the court may be more likely to forgo an alimony award and instead, direct the party to use those funds to provide sufficient income. In another example, if one party is directed to maintain mortgage payments on the marital home so the other party can remain in possession of the property, the court may reduce the amount of alimony for the spouse who gets to stay in the home.

Child Support

If the divorcing spouses have minor children together, the noncustodial parent will most likely be ordered to make child support payments. At the outset of a divorce, the recipient spouse may be receiving both alimony and child support payments on a regular basis. If alimony payments are terminated, the amount of money the custodial parent has for the care of the children could be adversely affected. In such a case, the court may recalculate child support payments to reflect this deduction in the custodial parent's income.

Modification and Termination

Alimony payments may be modified in the event of a substantial change in circumstances. This can include a change of employment, recent inheritance, increased medical expenses, change in the number of dependents, relocation, support of a party by another person, or other factors the court deems relevant concerning either party. Spousal support is terminated upon the death or remarriage of the recipient or as otherwise indicated in the court order.