A Summary of Iowa Divorce Laws

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Grounds for Divorce Under Iowa Divorce Laws

Divorce Laws Specifically for the State of Iowa

According to Iowa divorce laws, divorce is allowed only in the event of a complete and irreparable breakdown of the marriage. You and your wife must agree that the marriage is broken and cannot be fixed by any reasonable measure.

Residency Requirements

Iowa divorce laws require either that the Respondent be a resident of the State of Iowa, or, that the Plaintiff be a resident in good faith of the State of Iowa for a minimum of one year immediately prior to the filing of the petition for divorce. 


You may file a petition for divorce in the county where either you or your spouse reside.

Name of Court and Title of the Action/Parties

The Petitioner is the party that files for divorce and the Respondent is the other party. An action for divorce in the State of Iowa is filed in the District Court. The action to begin the proceedings is called the Petition, and the court order that grants the divorce is called the Decree.

Legal Separation

Legal separation is a viable option for couples living in unhappy marriages that do not want or can’t get a divorce for whatever reasons. Iowa law allows for a judgment of separation to be granted for the same grounds as for divorce.

The process is very similar to a divorce but leaves you still married. A legal separation does not allow you to remarry.

Waiting Period

In the process of a divorce in the State of Iowa, there is a 90-day waiting period from the time the petition is filed before the court will grant a judgment of dissolution of marriage. This 90-day waiting period is the minimum amount of time you must wait.


Alimony may be awarded to either spouse for a limited or indefinite time. If it is feasible, you should try to sort things out with your spouse and come to a mutual agreement regarding alimony and other matters. If you are unable to come to an agreement, the court will make a decision on the matter based upon the following factors:

  • The length of the marriage
  • The age and physical and emotional health of the parties
  • The distribution of property 
  • The educational level of each party at the time of marriage and the time the action is commenced
  • The earning capacity of the party seeking support
  • The feasibility of the party seeking support becoming self-supporting
  • The tax consequences to each party
  • Any mutual agreement between the parties
  • Any other relevant factors

Distribution of Property

The State of Iowa is an equitable distribution state. This means that the court will divide the marital property between the parties as it deems equitable and just, after setting aside to each spouse any inherited property or gifts received by that party. The court will consider several factors in dividing the property between the parties, including:

  • The property brought to the marriage by each party
  • The contribution of each party to the marriage
  • The age and physical and emotional health of the parties
  • The contribution by one party to the education, training or increased earning power of the other party
  • The earning capacity of each party
  • The desirability of awarding the family home to the party having custody of the children
  • Any other relevant factor

Child Custody

As with other things, you may attempt to reach an agreement with your spouse on the matters of child custody, visitation, and support.

Joint legal custody means both parents have an equal right to make decisions regarding the child/children; including such matters as education, medical care, religious upbringing, etc.

Joint physical custody means that the child will live part-time with each parent. Liberal visitation is meant to insure the child receives maximum continuing physical and emotional contact with both parents, and to encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities of raising the child. When deciding on the child’s best interest, the court will consider all relevant factors, including, but not limited to, the following:

  • The wishes of the parents
  • The wishes of the child, if the child is of sufficient age and maturity
  • The child’s age, maturity level, and mental/physical health
  • The psychological and emotional needs of the child
  • The child’s relationship with his/her parents and siblings
  • The age, character, stability, and mental/physical health of both parents
  • The ability of each parent to care for the child
  • The ability of the parents to communicate with each other regarding the child’s needs
  • Whether one or both parents agree or are opposed to joint custody
  • The geographic proximity of the parents
  • Any other relevant factors

Unless otherwise stated, each parent shall have equal rights to information regarding such things as the child’s medical, educational and law enforcement records.

Child Support

In a proceeding for dissolution of marriage or legal separation, the court may order either or both parties to pay a reasonable amount necessary for the support of a child of the marriage. The Iowa legislature has established child support guidelines, which establish the presumptive correct amount of child support.

Grandparent Visitation

The grandparents or great-grandparent of a child may petition the court for visitation rights when any of the following circumstances occur:

  • The parents of the child are divorced
  • A petition for dissolution of marriage has been filed by one of the child’s parents
  • A parent of the child has died
  • The child has been placed in foster care
  • The parents of the child are divorced and the custodial parent is not the child of the grandparent

A petition for grandparent visitation shall be granted only upon a finding that such visitation is in the child’s best interests and that the party seeking visitation had established a substantial relationship with the child prior to the filing of the petition.

Name Change

Upon request, the court may change the name of either party to either the name appearing on the party’s birth certificate or to the name used immediately prior to the marriage.


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