Statutes and Guidelines for Iowa Divorce Laws

By Beverly Bird

Divorce is complicated enough, so when you consider that laws change somewhat from state to state, it can be hard to get a clear picture of what you can expect from the process. Iowa made some critical changes to its statutes in 2009, so this further complicates the issue -- some old guidelines no longer apply. However, the state’s legislative code simplifies divorce in other ways.

Filing Requirements

Iowa’s residency requirements for divorce are lenient. Either you or your spouse must have lived in the state for one year. You don’t have to be a resident to file for divorce as long as your spouse is. Divorce is legally referred to as a “dissolution of marriage,” and Iowa's district courts have jurisdiction. Therefore, you would file for dissolution in the district court of the county where either you or your spouse resides.


Iowa is a “pure” no-fault state. It doesn’t recognize any fault grounds for divorce at all. Under Section 598.17 of the Iowa Code, your only available cause of action for divorce -- the reason you want the marriage to end -- is that your marriage has broken down and you don’t believe anything can save it. If your spouse disagrees with this, the court has the right to order you to attempt “conciliation efforts” for two months before allowing your divorce to proceed. Essentially, you’d have to go to marriage counseling.

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Child Custody

Iowa courts believe joint parenting is the best parenting post-divorce and Section 598.41 of the state’s legislative code specifies the factors a judge must consider when awarding it. Your child’s wishes matter, assuming she’s old enough to form a reasonable opinion. The court will consider whether your child is in favor of a joint custody arrangement or if she’s opposed to it -- and, if so, why. Other factors pertinent to a judge’s custody decision include the willingness of parents to work together post-divorce regarding parenting decisions and their willingness to encourage contact between their child and her other parent. When joint parenting isn’t an option, Iowa judges consider which parent has historically cared for the child.

Child Support

The Iowa legislature overhauled the state’s child support guidelines in July 2009. Prior to this time, a non-custodial parent paid a flat percentage of his income to the custodial parent, based on the number of children involved. This wasn’t a very specific formula and it did not accommodate joint physical custody arrangements very well. At the time of publication, the revised formula considers both parents’ incomes, health insurance premiums, and how much time a child spends with each parent.

Property and Alimony

Iowa is an equitable distribution state. When the court must decide issues of property division because you and your spouse can’t reach an agreement, or if you’re contesting spousal support, the state's judges have a great deal of discretion in deciding these things for you. The court considers several factors to determine what seems fair. Judges are inclined to award the marital home to the parent the child lives with most often. This usually occurs when physical custody is not approximately 50/50. Section 598.21A of the Iowa Code addresses issues of spousal support. It bases support duration on how long it might take the under-earning spouse to acquire job skills to allow her to become self-supporting in a style comparable to what she enjoyed during the marriage.

Final Decree

Even if you and your spouse reach an agreement before you file for divorce, Iowa has a three-month waiting period before the court will grant it. This time period begins with the date you serve your spouse with a copy of your divorce petition.

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