Getting a Divorce in Iowa

Roses are red, violets are blue, you thought it was forever, now look at you!

Sometimes love doesn’t go as planned, and you may wish you could retrace your steps. If you want to end your marriage relationship in Iowa, there’s no need to feel downcast about it, as the marriage dissolution process is relatively straightforward.

The best way to go about divorce in Iowa is to comprehend the state divorce laws and how they apply to your situation. I have created this article to help you dissolve not only your marital vows, but also the burden they now represent.

Divorce in Iowa Summary

Here is a brief breakdown of everything you need to know to get a divorce in Iowa.

Divorce Petition Requirements

Divorce Filing Eligibility

The only requirement to be eligible to file a divorce petition in Iowa is you must have lived in Iowa for at least one year prior to filing the petition. However, you must be a bona fide Iowa resident during that time and not just seek a divorce.

How to File A Divorce in Iowa

Step 1. Preparing the Divorce Papers

The first step is to get the divorce papers ready. It entails obtaining and correctly filling out the divorce forms that apply to your situation.

Step 2. Filing the Divorce Papers

Once you’re ready to file the divorce papers, you can do so in the county where either you or your spouse resides. The Iowa Judicial Branch allows you to submit your divorce forms electronically in some counties, saving you the trip to the courthouse. You can also inquire with the district court clerk about your options.

Step 3. Notifying Your Spouse of the Divorce

According to Iowa law, you must notify your spouse of the divorce action by serving them with a copy of the divorce papers. You must do this within 90 days of filing the divorce petition if you are the filing spouse. Otherwise, your petition may be dismissed by the court.

There are various ways to serve your spouse, but some are only appropriate if you can locate your partner.

Step 4. Waiting for Your Spouse’s Response

Your spouse has the option to respond or counterclaim after receiving your divorce forms. Within 20 days of receiving a copy of the divorce papers, your spouse must file such a response or counterclaim.

The respondent will sign the form after filling it out and submitting it electronically or with the court clerk.

Step 5. The Divorce Hearing

The court will schedule divorce hearings so the judge can review your case, render a final judgment, or issue preliminary orders. If your spouse does not respond to the petition, Iowa law allows you to request a default hearing.

Step 6. Final Divorce Decree

After receiving the final divorce decree, you can consider your divorce petition to be successful. The final decree, formally known as the Decree of Dissolution of Marriage, is written by a judge.

This order may be issued by the court after your spouse fails to file a response or consents to the divorce, or after trial.

This completes the divorce process in Iowa.

Requirements for Filing a Divorce Petition in Iowa

Aside from being legally married, you must meet eligibility requirements to file for divorce in Iowa. It is essential to confirm that you meet the requirement before filing for divorce because the state court may lack the jurisdiction to dissolve your marriage if you don’t qualify for a divorce. 

The sole qualification requirement for a divorce in Iowa is residency. Under Iowa law, there is more than one way to satisfy the residency requirement, and you must pick the option that applies to your situation and include it in your divorce petition. As the petitioner, you qualify to file your divorce petition if you are a resident of Iowa for a minimum of one year before filing the petition. However, you must be a bona fide resident of Iowa for that period and not only pursue a dissolution of marriage. 

If you don’t meet this requirement, you can still file for divorce if your spouse lives in Iowa and has done so for the required period.

The Iowa Divorce Process

As the filing spouse, you will have to prepare a bunch of forms and file them at the appropriate court to begin an Iowa divorce action. An easy way to get this done is by using an online divorce service to guarantee that there are no errors that may jeopardize your divorce case. Although there is a standard procedure, the divorce situation between you and your spouse may determine what to file and how the court proceedings may turn out. The following steps will help you understand how to file for divorce in Iowa:

Step 1: Preparing the divorce papers

Preparing the divorce papers involves getting the divorce forms that apply to your situation and filling them out correctly. While some forms are relevant in all divorce situations, you may have to file some additional documents unique to your case. For instance, a dissolution of marriage involving minor children has specific forms that the petitioner must file with the divorce petition. You and your spouse can also file a settlement agreement if you agree on the divorce terms. 

The Petition for Dissolution of Marriage is the primary form for marital dissolution in Iowa and must be included in your paperwork. Information that you can expect to provide on this form includes general details about the marriage and the parties, proof of residence, and the petitioner’s request. 

You can expect your divorce paperwork to contain the following documents: 

  • Petition for Dissolution of Marriage (Divorce)
  • Cover Sheet for a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage
  • Confidential Information Form
  • Original Notice
  • Protected Information Disclosure (if applicable)
  • Settlement Agreement
  • Agreed Parenting Plan (Divorce with Children)

The Iowa Judicial Branch website contains the necessary forms for a dissolution of marriage action. The Iowa Judicial Branch website has also made things easier by separating the divorce forms into separate packages for divorce with children and divorce without children. If your divorce does not involve minor children, you may use the Iowa Interactive Court Forms to begin your divorce process. 

Step 2: Filing the divorce papers

When you are ready to file the divorce forms, you have the option of filing in the county where either you or your spouse lives. In some counties, the Iowa Judicial Branch allows you to submit your divorce forms electronically so you don’t have to visit the courthouse. You can also contact the district court clerk to determine what options are available.

The electronic filing system is relatively straightforward and allows you to track your documents’ filing status and receive necessary files from the court clerk. However, you may have to file in person if there are no electronic filing provisions in the county where you intend to file the papers. 

The clerk will request a filing fee for the process, but you can request a form to defer payment of costs if you cannot afford the filing fees. In counties with a functional electronic filing system, manual submission of forms is prohibited and may only be allowed with the court’s permission.

Step 3: Notifying your spouse of the divorce 

Iowa law requires you to notify your spouse of the divorce action by serving them a copy of the divorce papers. If you are the filing spouse, you must do this within 90 days of filing the divorce petition. Otherwise, the court may dismiss your petition. There are different ways of serving your spouse, but some are only suitable if you can locate your partner. 

You can use any of the following options in this situation:

  • Personal service by giving the documents to the respondent in person or through regular mail—the respondent must sign an Acceptance of Service form that you will file as proof of service electronically or at the clerk’s office. 
  • The county sheriff or a private process server can deliver the divorce papers to the respondent on your behalf. This method is compulsory for petitioners who waive filing fee costs. 
  • Anyone else can deliver the documents to your spouse after filing an Affidavit of Service of Original Notice and Petition for Dissolution of Marriage form and filing it after the delivery.

If you have no idea where your spouse lives, the court may allow you to notify them through newspaper publication. However, the court will only approve this request upon proof that you have exercised due diligence in locating your spouse to no avail.

The request is sought by filing an application (a motion and affidavit) to Serve by Publication. The court may schedule a hearing that you must attend. If the court grants your application, you may publish a notice in a newspaper and mail a copy to the last-known address of your spouse.

NOTE: However, there may be no need to serve your spouse if the divorce is uncontested. This is because the court requires parties to an uncontested divorce to file a marital settlement agreement. If you’re unsure of your spouse’s reaction to a divorce, you may file your petition and await their response to determine whether the divorce will be contested or not.

Step 4: Waiting for your spouse’s response

Upon receipt of your divorce forms, your spouse has the option to respond or counterclaim. Your spouse must file such a response or counterclaim within 20 days of receiving a copy of the divorce papers. After filling out the form, the respondent will sign it and file it electronically or with the court clerk. 

Your spouse’s response can determine how the court proceeds with the case and whether you will have a contested or uncontested divorce. Failure of your spouse to file an answer at the appropriate time means you can get a final decree by default. If the court grants a dissolution order by default, you don’t have to go the full length of the trial or prove the entire claims in your petition.

Step 5: The divorce hearing

The court will schedule divorce hearings for the judge to review your case, pronounce the final judgment, or give preliminary orders. Iowa law also allows you to request a default hearing if your spouse does not respond to the petition. 

If you and your spouse disagree on getting a divorce, the matter will likely go to trial to determine whether the marriage should be dissolved or not. The court will schedule a trial hearing where you and your spouse can present your arguments to convince the judge. 

After the final hearing, the judge will make decisions on unresolved matters. Note that you may not require a divorce hearing if you and your spouse have an agreement that covers all aspects of the divorce.

Step 6: Final divorce decree

You can consider your divorce petition successful after getting the final divorce decree. A judge writes the final decree, formally called the Decree of Dissolution of Marriage. The court may issue this order after your spouse either fails to file a response or consents to the divorce, or after trial.

You may request a decree by default if your spouse fails to respond to the divorce petition or is absent throughout the proceedings. However, the law requires you to give such a soon-to-be-ex a written 10-day notice stating the intention to file a motion for a final decree by default.

For an uncontested divorce by a written agreement, the judge will decide if the case is ready for a decree after reviewing the terms of the agreement for approval. If approved, the judge will sign the final order.

There is a statutory 90-day waiting period before a judge can issue a final divorce decree in all dissolution cases. You may apply to waive the waiting period with a good reason and get the divorce decree in a shorter time.

If you need help with your divorce . . .

You can avoid the stress of going through the legal steps above by using online divorce services. These services assist you with divorce filings and overcoming other legal hurdles to your happiness. You can make an informed decision on getting assistance by checking out my ranked assessment of the best online divorce services. If you’d like specific recommendations for an online divorce service in Iowa, click here.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to get a divorce in Iowa?

Under Iowa divorce laws, the earliest time a divorcing couple can get a final divorce decree is 90 days after the service of the divorce petition to the respondent. This waiting period is mandatory in all types of divorce but may be shortened by filing a motion requesting a shorter finalization time. However, the party filing the motion must provide a good reason before the judge can grant the request. 

In reality, getting a divorce in Iowa takes longer than just the waiting period. The time of divorce may be longer if you and your spouse disagree on vital aspects of the divorce. Some judicial districts may require both parties to attend education or mediation programs, but the duration of the education program or mediation sessions may vary by judicial district. 

Likewise, Iowa law requires divorcing spouses with minor children to attend a Children in the Middle Course for more insight on how divorce affects children. The court expects each parent to complete the course within 45 days of the service of original notice before issuing a final decree. 

Uncontested divorces are generally faster because they may result in a default judgment or the spouses may have arranged a settlement agreement that covers all matters. Unlike an uncontested divorce, both spouses have issues in a contested divorce that may result in a longer litigation time. 

What are the different types of divorce in Iowa?

An Iowa divorce is either a contested divorce or an uncontested divorce. The terms that distinguish a contested divorce from an uncontested divorce depend on how the divorcing parties wish to resolve their issues. While it is typical to have unresolved concerns, spouses may decide to resolve these issues themselves or leave the decisions to the court. 

Uncontested divorces have faster proceedings and are less expensive than contested cases. If you and your spouse can resolve all aspects of your divorce case, you can make agreements and file them along with the divorce petition. For instance, your settlement agreement may contain how to divide marital property and resolve the concerns of a spouse seeking maintenance. Divorcing couples with children may have an agreed parenting plan that discusses child custody and visitation arrangements they want the court to enforce. 

The judge will meet with both spouses and review the agreements to ensure both parties reached it voluntarily before approving your divorce. An uncontested divorce may also occur if the judge awards a final decree by default. The petitioner could request a default judgment if the respondent did not file an answer or fulfill legal obligations in a divorce case. In such cases, the judge will make decisions based on the petition.

Contested divorces likely end in a trial if both parties cannot resolve their issues before the trial date. The judge will make decisions on unresolved divorce matters based on the arguments of both parties and the Iowa code. 

Do I need an attorney to get a divorce in Iowa?

Under Iowa code, you do not need an attorney to get a divorce. However, you have the legal right to be represented by an attorney in your divorce case. Many people use an attorney to get legal advice and improve their chances of a favorable outcome. 

Iowa courts recommend the use of an attorney, especially if you are involved in a divorce action involving children or an otherwise contested divorce. Self-represented parties can get legal information on how to represent themselves in the Iowa divorce process from the clerk or check the Iowa Judicial Branch resources. If you decide to hire an attorney, the Iowa State Bar Association Find-A-Lawyer referral service can find you an attorney.

Do I have to prove separation to get a divorce in Iowa?

No, the Iowa code does not require you to prove separation before getting a divorce. As long as one spouse resides in Iowa, a couple can divorce. Couples legally separate if they wish to remain married but want the court to resolve issues similar to a divorce, such as child support, spousal support, child custody, or division of marital property.

The legal process and court proceedings of divorce and legal separation are similar. Spouses can make agreements in a legal separation case to settle the issues by themselves or go to trial. 

Can I get a divorce in Iowa if I was married in another state?

Where you got your marriage papers doesn’t matter if you plan to get an Iowa divorce. Iowa code specifies that you are eligible to get a divorce in the state if either you or your spouse meets the residency requirement.. The petitioner must deliver a copy of the filed documents to the respondent by personal service if they do not live in Iowa. 

Is spousal fault necessary for the dissolution of marriage in Iowa?

No. In fact, Iowa has eliminated the use of marital fault as legal grounds for terminating a marriage. Therefore, the state only accepts no-fault grounds stated in the Iowa code. 

The court will issue a final divorce decree if it establishes that there has been a breakdown of the marriage relationship and the spouses have irreconcilable differences. The petitioner or respondent can present evidence that neither party is willing to preserve the marriage and both parties want a divorce. 

Dissolution is also possible when one of the spouses has a mental illness. However, dissolution on this ground may not relieve the other spouse of lawful support obligations. The court will also ask the spouse seeking the divorce to provide proof of such mental illness. This may be evidence of admission to a mental facility or a medical examination report.

What factors influence alimony payments in Iowa?

Alimony (also known as spousal support) refers to the payments made by one spouse to the other for a limited or indefinite time. An Iowa court can order maintenance at its discretion, or a spouse can seek it through agreements or a trial. The court may order temporary or indefinite alimony orders, but such payments typically cease once the spouse receiving alimony either remarries or dies.

The court will consider the following before granting a support payment request:

  • Length of the marriage
  • The division of marital property by the court
  • Terms of a prenuptial agreement, if it exists
  • Educational background of each spouse during the marriage and when the spousal support action commenced
  • The duration for the spouse seeking alimony to acquire sufficient education or training to get suitable employment
  • Both spouses’ age and overall health, including physical and emotional health
  • Child custody arrangements
  • Likelihood and duration that the spouse seeking alimony can independently maintain the former standard of living comparable to that experienced during the marriage
  • Income capacity of the spouse seeing alimony, including education level, employment skills, occupation experience, and time unemployed
  • The tax consequences for each spouse
  • Any mutual agreement made by the parties concerning financial or service contributions by one party with the expectation of future reciprocation or compensation by the other party
  • Any other factor the court deems to be significant

How are child custody and support determined in an Iowa divorce?

Iowa law requires the court to ensure minor children have an opportunity to enjoy physical and emotional contact with both parents even after a divorce. Consequently, the court may order joint custody and visitation rights per the child’s best interests. However, the court will not grant joint custody if there is a history of domestic violence.

The following are the factors the court will consider in granting child custody orders:

  • Whether each parent would be a suitable custodian for the child
  • Whether the psychological and emotional needs and development of the child will suffer due to a lack of active contact with and attention from both parents
  • Whether the parents can communicate with each other regarding the child’s needs
  • Whether both parents have actively cared for the child before and since the separation
  • Whether each parent can support the other parent’s relationship with the child
  • Whether the custody arrangement is in accord with the child’s wishes or whether the child has strong opposition, taking into consideration the child’s age and maturity
  • Whether one or both the parents agree or are opposed to joint custody
  • The geographic proximity of the parents 
  • Whether the safety of the child, other children, or the other parent will be jeopardized by the awarding of joint custody or by unsupervised or unrestricted visitation
  • Whether there is a history of domestic abuse
  • Whether a parent has allowed a person custody or control of or unsupervised access to a child after knowing the person is a sex offender

In a child support proceeding, the court may order either or both parents to pay a specific amount as support for the minor child. The court will consider the following to calculate the amount each parent will pay:

  • The responsibility of both parents to take care of the child’s basic needs for a closer relationship between them
  • The income of the noncustodial parent
  • Disability benefits previously awarded to a parent 
  • Educational expenses
  • Medical support

How are marital assets shared?

Upon a divorce judgment, the court may divide marital property between the spouses equitably as provided in Iowa law. Remember that marital property excludes assets parties inherit or acquire as a gift from each other before or during the marriage.

Divorcing couples can also create a division of property agreement and submit it to the court for approval. The presiding judge will approve and enforce the agreement if it is equitable. Inability to resolve property division may lead to a trial where the court will carry out an equitable division using the following factors:

  • The duration of the marriage
  • The property that each spouse acquired in the union
  • How each party contributed to the relationship, assigning appropriate economic value to each spouse’s homemaking role and care of children
  • The age and physical and emotional health of both spouses
  • The contribution of either spouse to the education, training, or increased earning power of the other
  • The income of each party and educational level, training, employment skills, work experience, and the total period of unemployment
  • Custody arrangements and the time and expenses necessary for a spouse to acquire sufficient education or training to become independent and maintain their usual standard of living
  • Value of an existing spousal support order and if awarding marital property replaces it
  • Economic resources of each spouse, including pension benefits and future earnings
  • The tax consequences to each spouse
  • Any division of property agreement made by the spouses
  • Terms of a premarital agreement
  • Other relevant factors the court may consider

In Summary

You can turn your marriage certificate into divorce papers seamlessly through Iowa’s dissolution of marriage process. I have put together this guide to equip you with the necessary legal information that will make the termination of your marriage a reality.

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