Overview of Divorce Laws in Iowa
If you are considering a divorce in Iowa, it is important to understand the divorce laws and how they apply to your situation. This guide will help you understand the rules and procedures so that you can equip yourself with the information you need to get through a divorce in Iowa.
Here are some of the most important things to know about divorce laws in Iowa:
- Equitable Distribution and Asset Division
- Spousal Support and Child Support
- Child Custody and Visitation
- Divorce Process
- Other Divorce Issues
Equitable Distribution and Asset Division
Marital Property and Division of Assets in Iowa
Iowa is an equitable distribution state and this means courts will attempt to ensure marital assets are divided equitably, but not always equally in a divorce.
Before a division of assets can take place, it must be determined which are marital assets and separate assets. Marital assets are those accumulated during the course of the marriage up until the day of separation. Separate property is any property owned by a spouse prior to the marriage as well as some property that has been acquired either by a gift or inheritance.
There are several factors Iowa courts consider when making an equitable distribution. These include:
- Age, physical health, and emotional health of the parties
- Whether a party worked to support the other person while that person attended school
- Earning ability of each party
- Financial circumstances of each party, including retirement accounts and pension benefits
- Tax consequences of property division
- Any written agreements regarding property division prepared by the spouses
- Any prenuptial agreements
- Duration of marriage
- Property each spouse brought to the marriage
- Each party’s contributions to the assets during the marriage, including services as a homemaker
- Whether it is appropriate to award the family home to a party raising the children
- Any spousal support awards
Just like assets are divided, debts are also divided in an Iowa divorce. Any debt acquired during a marriage is the responsibility of both parties, up to the date of separation and both spouses are liable for repayment.
The debt will be split fairly but not necessarily on a 50-50 basis. Courts may take into account who was responsible for accumulating most of the debt, the ability of one party to pay a debt more readily, and other factors.
Courts may also assign a debt based on how property is awarded. For example, if a spouse is given a car as part of the settlement, then they would be responsible for making payments and would probably have to buy out the other person’s interest.
It is important to remember that even though one spouse may be assigned the debt, the nonpayment of the debt will affect both spouse’s credit scores.
Gifts and Inherited Property
When a spouse receives a gift from a third party in Iowa, that gift is considered separate property and not subject to an equitable distribution of assets.
However, if the gift was clearly given to both spouses as a couple, then it would be considered marital property (such as a down payment for a house).
The person who receives a gift during a marriage and claims it as separate property has the burden of proof to show that the gift or inheritance was intended to be separate property. It is best to keep all documentation related to the gift so that you can prove your case if needed.
Inherited property is considered separate property in Iowa. This means if you are given inherited property either before or during your marriage, it cannot be given to your spouse if you divorce.
But if you commingle your inheritance, meaning you combine it with marital assets, it may lose separate status and could be divided among spouses if a divorce takes place.
The best way to avoid this is to place all inherited assets into a separate account and document all actions accordingly.
Another way to protect an inheritance is to have a spouse sign a pre- or post-nuptial agreement agreeing that the inheritance belongs to one spouse only, no matter how it is used in the marriage.
Pensions, IRAs, 401Ks and Retirement Plans
Pensions and retirement benefits acquired during a marriage are considered marital property. Those funds are subject to Iowa’s equitable distribution laws. Any funds earned prior to marriage or after the date of separation are considered separate property.
Determining the exact value of pensions and retirement accounts can be complex and often times, a financial expert such as a pension evaluator or a certified divorce financial analyst may be required to make an accurate assessment.
Often times, a pension or retirement plan is the largest asset in a marriage, and if one spouse wants to keep it intact, they will need to offset that by giving up interest in other marital assets, such as the family home.
Legally splitting pensions and other retirement funds is a multiple step process. After the divorce has been granted, an attorney or a specialized firm must create a qualified domestic relations order, more commonly referred to as a QDRO.
The QDRO must be approved by the courts and then it can be submitted to the plan administrator who must also approve it. This establishes that a spouse can be considered an alternate payee, and the asset is divided according to the specifics contained in the QDRO.
To easily get a QDRO online, try using QDRO Counsel! Their simple platform makes drafting your QDRO a breeze while still ensuring that all of your assets are accounted for.
Spousal Support and Child Support
Spousal Support in Iowa
As defined by Iowa statutes, spousal support can be granted for either a predetermined limited time or indefinitely, depending on a number of factors, including:
- the time necessary to acquire sufficient education and training to enable the spouse to find appropriate employment and become self-supporting
- the duration of the marriage
- the financial resources of the spouse seeking alimony, including marital property apportioned to such spouse and such spouse’s ability to meet his or her needs independently
- the tax consequences to each spouse
- the age of the spouses
- the physical and emotional conditions of the spouses
- the work experience and length of absence from the job market of the spouse seeking alimony
- the vocational skills and employability of the spouse seeking support and alimony
- the probable duration of the need of the spouse seeking support and alimony
- custodial and child support responsibilities
- the educational level of each spouse at the time of the marriage and at the time the action for support is commenced
- any premarital or other agreements
- the earning capacity of the spouse seeking maintenance, including the educational background, employment skills, and work experience
- any other factor the court deems just and equitable. Marital misconduct is not a factor.
Child Support in Iowa
Both parents are financially responsible for their minor children in Iowa. As such both may be ordered to pay a fair and reasonable amount of support.
Child Support Guidelines are available for you to review, and these Guideline charts are presumed to be correct. They are based in large part on the net income of both parents. However, they may be adjusted by making a case in front of a judge or if there are special needs required by the child.
Normally these payments stop when a child turns 18 but can be extended beyond that age if the child is still attending high school full time and has a reasonable expectation of graduating.
If a parent misses child support payments, then the other parent can petition the courts to force payment through several possible means. This can include withholding the parent’s wages or benefits, placing liens on their property, garnishing tax refunds, and in some cases imposing criminal penalties.
Child Custody and Visitation
Child Custody in Iowa
Child custody in Iowa is based on the premise of providing for the best interests of any child involved in a divorce. Courts want both parents to have a strong, positive and ongoing relationship with their children and will use the following factors to base how custody is awarded:
- Whether each parent is an appropriate custodian
- Whether the child’s psychological and emotional needs will suffer from lack of contact with a parent
- The parents’ ability to communication with each other to discuss the child’s needs
- Whether both parents have participated in caring for the child
- The parents’ ability to support the child’s relationship with the other person
- The child’s wishes
- Whether a parent opposes joint custody
- The distance between the parents’ homes
- Whether joint custody will jeopardize the child’s safety
- Any history of domestic violence
Substance abuse cannot be cited as a reason to get a divorce in Iowa. But it can be cited as a factor in some parts of a settlement agreement. The most prominent of these is determining child custody and visitation.
If a parent has a substance abuse problem that could put a child in danger, their visitation and custody could either be curtailed, denied completely or only allowed to take place under strict supervision.
It is best to document substance abuse and how it has impacted your marriage if you plan to raise it as an issue. This can be done by gathering statements from witnesses or law enforcement, social services agencies, family members or others who can provide first-hand evidence and insights.
Bifurcation of marital status
Bifurcation means that both parties in a divorce can legally divide their divorce into two stages. The first part satisfies the grounds for the divorce and a marriage is terminated at that point.
The financial aspects of the divorce such as child custody, visitation, child support, alimony or other contentious issues that may have stalled or that have become major sticking points will be finalized at a later date.
However, Iowa does not allow for bifurcated marriages. All issues must be resolved before a divorce in the state can be finalized.
During the 90-day waiting period, parties will usually have to file a Financial Affidavit (Form FL-124) unless a judge decides that it is not needed.
The form will disclose all assets in the marriage so that an equitable distribution of assets can take place as part of the final settlement. Both marital and separate assets must be disclosed.
It’s not uncommon for a spouse to attempt to hide certain assets to avoid the settlement process. However, a spouse also runs the risk of getting caught doing this and it could lead to serious repercussions up to and including being charged with fraud.
Accurate disclosure of assets is also required because is impacts whether or not spousal support should be required and what amount of child support should be ordered.
If a spouse does not respond to a divorce petition after being served, then a petitioner may be able to seek a default divorce. This can happen when a respondent does not file a response to the complaint within 20 days after being served.
During the hearing, the court will make legal determinations regarding parenting plans, spousal support, and asset and property division. If the respondent fails to appear, they give up any legal right to influence or counter the court’s final judgement.
The exception to a default action is if your spouse is an active member of the U.S. military. In this case, their rights are protected until such time that they can devote the attention necessary to respond to the petition.
Other Divorce Issues
In marriages where domestic abuse is present, your first and most immediate goal is to protect your safety and the safety of anyone else living with you who may be in danger.
Domestic violence includes any kind of physical abuse, emotional abuse, stalking, or any other kind of harassment including those made through phone calls, mail, or social media inflicted on one spouse by the other.
You must take immediate steps such as leaving your home and then seeking a protective order that will keep the abuser away from you.
While domestic violence cannot cited as a reason for divorce, it can still have a big impact on aspects of the divorce. An abuser may not be allowed any child custody privileges, or visitation may be granted but on a severely restricted and supervised basis.
Divorce settlements will almost always require that health insurance be provided by one or both spouses after the fact. If one spouse has health insurance through an employer, it may be possible to keep that coverage in place for the children as long as the cost is reasonable.
In general, courts require that parties maintain health insurance in most cases while a divorce is taking place. If you cancel health insurance when a spouse is used to getting coverage from you, then you could be held liable for medical bills if your spouse is injured or needs medical attention before you are divorced.
They can apply for COBRA benefits. This is a law that protects people from losing health coverage during major life transitions. It allows you to continue with your spouse’s current coverage for up to 36 months as long as you pay the premiums. But this can be very expensive because an employer will no longer cover any portion of the premium.
For many people, a better option may be to purchase health insurance on an exchange as part of the Affordable Care Act.
Infidelity and Adultery
Infidelity and adultery occur when a spouse has sex voluntarily with someone other than their spouse while they are still married. Marital misconduct such as this is not a ground for divorce in Iowa, but it may impact other parts of a separation agreement.
For example, because the courts place well-being of any children at the forefront of any divorce, then adultery could have an impact on custody or visitation.
If it can be shown that an adulterous spouse spent considerable marital assets on an affair, then this may also have some impact in certain cases when it comes to a division of assets.
Military Divorces in Iowa
If you are a resident of Iowa but you are stationed outside of the state as part of your service, you can still file for divorce in Iowa.
While some parts of a military divorce are the same as they are for civilian divorces, there are also some notable differences.
The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act eases many legal and financial burdens of military personnel and their families who face the added challenges of active duty. Moving forward with a divorce can be delayed until after active duty is completed. Or, a service member can choose to waive the delay and sign the paperwork which will then allow the divorce to proceed uncontested.
Military benefits, including how retirement plans are handled, are subject to rules set by the Department of Defense as part of the Uniformed Services Former Spouses Protection Act. Military members retirement will not be divided or distributed to a spouse unless they have been married 10 years or longer while the member has been active duty military.
Standard Iowa child support guidelines, worksheets and schedules are used to determine the proper amount of child support to be paid, but federal law dictates that child and spousal support awards may not exceed 60% of a servicemember’s pay and allowances.
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