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Divorce in Iowa - The Basics

Divorce, more formally known as Dissolution of Marriage, is governed by Iowa Code Chapter 598. In order to get a divorce, the legal requirement is that there must be, "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 the marriage can be preserved."

The Process

Before you or your spouse can file for divorce, you must determine where you are going to file. If you are both residents of the State of Iowa, and your spouse can be served in Iowa, then you can file in the County Court where either or both of you reside. If, however, you live in Iowa but your spouse has already moved to another State, you will have had to live in Iowa for more than a year, and will have to certify in your Petition that your residency in Iowa has been in good faith and not just to get a divorce under Iowa laws. Iowa Code Section 598.5(k).

Once you've decided where to file your divorce, a Petition and a Civil Original Notice will need to be prepared, and you will be charged a filing fee of $265.00 to electronically file those documents with the Clerk of Court. Once filed, you will need to have the Sheriff or a private process server hand-deliver the file stamped copies to your spouse, and then they have up to 20 days to file an Answer to your Petition. If your spouse has filed and you are named as the Respondent, it is exceedingly important not to miss your 20 day Answer deadline or the Court may give your spouse exactly what they're asking for without your input--this is called a Default Judgment which you want to avoid at all costs.

Once there's a Petition and Answer on file, you will be required to participate in mediation to try to resolve your case without needing Court intervention. Mediation is a great time to work through the issues of child custody/visitation, child support, property/debt division and whether or not either spouse will pay the other alimony. If you're not able to resolve all of your issues in mediation, you are still able to come to a partial agreement and reserve other issues for trial. The true benefit of reaching an agreement at mediation is that you are in control of the outcome, whereas the only guarantee you have when your case proceeds to trial is that you'll get a decision, but it likely won't be the outcome you want.

The Issues

As you would expect, there are numerous issues that may need to be worked out in the course of a divorce. While not an exhaustive list of things you might face in your divorce, this list should help get you thinking about the issues you will need to address to bring your divorce to a final resolution:

  • Child Custody: Custody is broken down into two categories, Legal and Physical. Legal Custody is what bestows the authority to make decisions regarding a child's upbringing, such as medical or educational decisions. Physical Custody is just like it sounds--who physically has the child.

  • Child Visitation: Once Legal and Physical Custody are established, a visitation schedule dictates which parent gets to spend time with the child on what days and at what times.

  • Child Support: Generally speaking, whichever parent has primary physical custody of a minor child is awarded child support pursuant to the Child Support Guidelines. There are some exceptions, such as a shared-care arrangement where the parent who earns less income is awarded child support despite the parties have equal time with the child.

  • Property/Debt Division: Throughout the course of a marriage, couples accumulate assets and debts. All assets and debts will need to be divided for a divorce to be finalized. Iowa is an "equitable distribution" state, so if you can't reach an agreement with your spouse, then the Court will consider several factors in determining who gets to keep what items of property and who will be responsible for the debts of the parties.

  • Spousal Support: Commonly referred to as alimony, spousal support is an award of certain payments from one party to the other. In Iowa, spousal support is relatively rare and is based on several complex factors that we can discuss with you to see if it might be appropriate in your situation.

The Costs

How much your divorce costs is entirely dependent on how well you're able to work with your soon-to-be ex-spouse on figuring out an agreement you can both live with. It is often said that a good negotiation is one where neither party is overly thrilled with the end result, but can reasonably live with the outcome.

If you and your spouse are able to reach a full agreement, you may be able to complete your divorce without hiring an attorney which may limit your total cost to court costs only. If, however, you're not able to reach an agreement and both sides want to fight it out, each party should expect to spend several thousand in attorney and mediation fees, as well as the possibility of fees for third parties such as Child and Family Reporters, Business Valuation Experts, Real Estate Appraisers, etc.

At A.G. Law, we work closely with you to provide diligent and dignified representation at a cost you can afford, give us a call today!

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