Iowa Divorce Guide

Iowa Divorce Guide

A Guide to Divorce in Iowa

This is a complete guide to divorce in Iowa.

This guide will answer all of your questions – and even some you probably didn’t even think to ask!

So if you want to make sure you have a lay of the land (and steer clear the pitfalls), we’ve got you covered.

Let’s get started.

The differences between legal separation, annulment and divorce in Iowa

divorce, annulment and legal separation

Married couples can end their marriages through annulment or divorce in Iowa. Legal separation is also an option but does not completely terminate a marriage.

Legal Separation

To file for legal separation, you must meet residency requirements of living in Iowa for at least one year, and you must file a motion with the court to request separation in a county where at least one spouse lives.

You only need to start that the marriage is irretrievably broken as your ground for legal separation. Just as in divorce, you will need to wait for a minimum of 90 days before the court can grant your request. During this time, you may need to attend conciliation, a court ordered counseling, to see if the marriage can be salvaged. This condition is waived in cases of domestic abuse.

With legal separation, you will need to decide child custody and support arrangements, a division of assets, and alimony issues before a separation agreement will be approved by the courts. The agreement is then valid until the court terminates it or the couple decides to move forward with an actual divorce.

Some people choose separate maintenance over divorce for religious reasons or it may allow one spouse to stay on the other’s health insurance or there could be more favorable tax implications.


An annulment means that there was no valid marriage because certain legal requirements were not met. You can base an annulment on the following grounds:

  • Impotence – a spouse was impotent when you married them
  • Incest – you are related to your spouse as first cousins or closer
  • Bigamy – you or your spouse were already married when you married them
  • Under legal age – you or your spouse were under the legal age when you got married. The age of a legal marriage is 18 unless a spouse is 16 or 17 and the marriage is approved by the parents and a judge
  • Incompetence – you or your spouse were not mentally competent or were under another person’s guardianship at the time of the marriage.

You start the annulment process by filing a Petition for Annulment. Just like a divorce, either you or your spouse must have lived in Iowa for the last year. This will lead to a hearing in front of a judge. Also, a marriage can still be annulled even if the spouses had children during the marriage.


A divorce is a permanent and legal end to a marriage in Iowa. This means all issues such as alimony, child support and visitation and a division of assets are settled and each spouse goes their separate way after a final divorce decree is approved by the courts.

What are the grounds for divorce in Iowa?

Iowa is strictly a no-fault state. This means couples do not need to state a specific reason for their divorce, only that there are irreconcilable differences and that the marriage holds no likelihood of being preserved.

You must also be a resident of Iowa for at least one year on a permanent basis before you can file for divorce.

What are your options for divorce in Iowa?

What kind of divorce is right for you

It is in your best interests to fully understand all of your options when you are thinking about getting a divorce. The path that you ultimately take will be determined by the relationship you have with your spouse.

Deciding whether to pursue an uncontested divorce in Iowa or attempting to negotiate a settlement through a cooperative effort of some sort could save you a lot time and money, making it easier for you to transition to life as a single person.

The type of divorce sets the frameworks for how you get to a final resolution. The process you and your spouse choose sets the tone and shapes the outcome of your divorce.

Here are the types of divorce:

  • Do-It-Yourself Divorce: What I like to call the kitchen table divorce. This one is pretty straight forward. You don’t hire any professionals and attempt to resolve all your differences with your spouse. The biggest downside is you don’t know what you don’t know. I’d steer clear of this approach unless you don’t have kids or any money.
  • Online Divorce: A far superior choice to DIY divorce. Navigating the divorce process and legal procedures can be a minefield. A good online divorce platform removes the guesswork. Through guided interviews, you’ll complete the forms while getting educated on the key legal issues in the process. This can be a great option if you have a relatively straightforward situation and you’re on the same page with your spouse.
Pro Tip: We’ve taken a close look at all of the best online divorce services, and our top pick is 3 Step Divorce. They are fast and affordable, with a 100% guarantee of court approval or your money back! Check out our full review here, or you can >>> Save Now By Getting Started With 3 Step Divorce.
  • Litigation: The default option and also the most expensive. If you and your spouse can’t agree on one of the other options, then you’re headed for litigation. Litigation is an attorney-driven process. While the majority of cases settle before going to trial, that doesn’t mean litigation won’t wreak havoc on you and your kids. However, sometimes it’s the only viable option. If your spouse has a high-conflict personality (narcissist, borderline, etc.) or there is domestic violence, litigation might be your only option. This is also the right choice if your main goal is to punish your spouse. While this may sound tempting, I highly encourage you to think about the big picture.
  • Mediation: With mediation, you and your spouse retain a neutral professional (typically an attorney) to help facilitate agreement. The mediator will help you brainstorm options, understand each other’s perspectives, and make compromises to reach a resolution that you and your spouse can both live with.
  • Collaborative Divorce: Contrary to popular belief, this doesn’t just mean that you and your spouse are going to work out your divorce “collaboratively.” There’s much more to it. Collaborative divorce is a structured process that takes a team approach. Divorce is much more than a legal process. It’s about money, kids, and emotions. That’s why a Collaborative team includes collaborative lawyers, a divorce coach, and a neutral financial specialist. Unlike any other process, everyone commits not to go to court. The idea is that this removes the threat of litigation which fosters creative solutions and interest-based negotiation. It’s far and away the most supportive type of divorce.

Learn More: I’ve really just scratched the surface on the types of divorce. For a deep dive into the pros and cons of these options, be sure to check out our guide on the types of divorce.

What is the process of filing for divorce in Iowa?

Process of Getting a Divorce

You can go through a divorce in Iowa several possible ways, but there are some basic things are pretty much the same no matter type of divorce you choose.

Gather important information.To give yourself the best chance at achieving the best possible outcome, you need to be organized and proactive when it comes to pulling together the information you will need.

By doing so, you can ensure your rights are protected while also saving time, money and anxiety for the next steps in your divorce.

Before you jump in to collecting financial information, take the following steps:

  • Open a new checking and savings account in your name alone.
  • Open a credit card in your name alone.
  • Order a free credit report.
  • Make a list of all the assets and liabilities that you’re aware of. Include any memberships, reward points, and other perks that may be considered as assets.

If you’re in the dark about your finances, that’s okay. You and your spouse will be required to complete financial affidavits as part of the divorce process. The goal at this point is simply to begin identifying the puzzle pieces.

Okay, now it’s time to start gathering your information. Here’s a short-list of what you need:

  • Tax returns (including W-2’s, K-1’s, and 1099’s) for the last 5 years
  • Pay stubs for the last 3 months
  • Bank statements
  • Credit card statements
  • Retirement account statements
  • Pension plan statements
  • Grant notice for stock options, RSUs, etc.
  • Investment account statements
  • Life insurance policies
  • Mortgage statements
  • Real estate appraisals
  • Deeds to real estate
  • Car registration
  • Kelley Blue Book printouts (“private party value”)
  • Car loan statements
  • Social security benefit statement
To see exactly what you should focus on gathering, we’ve prepared a Divorce Information Checklist that you can check out here as part of our article The Ultimate Divorce Checklist: The Information You Need to Prepare for Divorce.

Complete the initial paperwork. You will need to complete several forms and submit them to the court in the county where either spouse resides. If you’re using an attorney, they will make sure you are using the right forms and that they are filled out correctly.

Every divorce is different, but in general you will probably need to prepare the following documents:

  • Petition for Dissolution of Marriage
  • Coversheet for a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage
  • Confidential Information Form
  • Original Notice for Personal Service
  • Acceptance of Service of Original Notice
  • Directions for Service of Original Notice
  • Motion and Affidavit to Serve by Publication (if you cannot serve)
  • Original Notice by Publication
  • Application and Affidavit to Defer Payment of Costs (if you cannot afford the divorce)

File your forms. After you have completed your forms, you will need to file the paperwork in the court of the county where you or your spouse lives. You need to make sure you meet residency requirements or your initial petition will be rejected.

When you file your forms, you will be given instructions about what comes next that pertain to your specific circumstances.

Completing proof of service in Iowa

After you file for divorce, you must serve your spouse with a copy of the paperwork so that they are officially notified of your actions. You or someone over 18 can give your spouse the paperwork through “acceptance of service” if they provide signed acceptance that they have received the legal papers.

Service may also be completed through “personal service” by a sheriff or a process server who will document that papers have been served after doing so. A proof of service will then be submitted to the court.

If you want, you can also provide proof of service through notice by publication. If you have tried to serve your spouse but cannot complete proof of service, the court will review your case and then decide if they will allow you to publish a notice in a local paper once a week for three weeks to complete this requirement.Until proof of service has been completed by any of these means, a divorce complaint cannot move forward.

Can you file for divorce online in Iowa?

Divorce Online

It is possible to automate the divorce process by starting the divorce process online in Iowa. You can electronically file a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage and pay a $185 filing fee.

Our favorite resource for a fast and effective online divorce is: 3 Step Divorce.

3 Step Divorce checks all the boxes that make an online divorce worthwhile.

They aim to make it easy – and they certainly deliver.

From step-by-step instructions to unlimited live support, here are just a few of the reasons why 3 Step is our #1 recommended online divorce resource:

  • Affordable
    • $299 flat-fee with no hidden charges
  • Flexible
    • Monthly payment options as low as $84/mo
  • Fast
    • Initial questionnaire takes less than 1 hour
  • Informative
    • Library of free tools and resources
  • Supportive
    • Unlimited access to support agents by phone or email
  • Instantaneous
    • Immediate access to completed forms
  • Guaranteed
    • Assurance of 100% court-approval (or your money back!)

3 Step Divorce also boasts the highest customer rating in the industry (4.6 stars based on 1,575 reviews).

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After paperwork has been filed, it will need to be served on your spouse and in the event you can’t agree on all issues in the divorce, you may eventually have to go before a judge for a hearing. Each divorce case is different, but you should be able to automate some of the process in most cases.

It is also possible to do some of the initial paperwork in Iowa online by retaining the services of a private family law attorney or using one of several firms who specialize in automating the divorce process. You can engage both of these entities online or through emails to complete much of the documentation.

Can you file for divorce in Iowa without using a lawyer?

File for Divorce Without an Attorney

Many people in Iowa cannot afford to hire an attorney or choose not to do so. To assist those people, the Iowa Supreme Court developed forms that will help people who decide to go this route. This generally works best when spouses can reach agreement on all the issues by themselves.

There are two sets of forms: one for those getting divorced and do not have children together and one for those getting divorced but do have children together.

The forms and a guide on how to use the forms are available on the Iowa Courts website.

Keep in mind that these forms may be complicated and do not work in all situations, especially if you and your spouse are in disagreement over one or more issues.

How much will it cost?

Cost of a Divorce

There are several fees you may have to pay when you seek a divorce in Iowa. The filing fee to start a divorce case is $185. The final decree fee is an additional $50 payable when your divorce is completed. You will also need to pay a court reporting fee of $40 for each hearing you have in court. Depending on the county where papers are filed, there may also be some added miscellaneous costs as well.

In some cases, if you meet the necessary criteria you can seek to have these fees waived. You will need to file a request by filling out and filing an Application and Affidavit to Defer Payment of Costs and if approved, your fees will be waived.

In a contested divorce when attorneys need to get involved, expect to pay anywhere from $200 to $400 per hour depending on the complexity of your case. Many attorneys may also ask for a retainer up front before starting work on your behalf.

Some spouses opt for using a mediator or an arbitrator. Fees will vary to some degree, but generally range anywhere from $3,000 to $7,000. In some cases, a judge may require mediation as part of trying to reach a final settlement.

Fully contested divorces with complicated alimony, child custody and support issues, and a large amount of assets to be divided can run into the tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees, depending on the circumstances of an individual divorce.

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

How Long Does a Divorce Take

It depends, but the quickest that a divorce can be over in Iowa is 90 days.

According to 598.19 Iowa Code, “No decree dissolving a marriage shall be granted in any proceeding before ninety days shall have elapsed from the day the original notice is served, or from the last day of publication of notice, or from the date that waiver or acceptance of original notice is filed or until after conciliation is completed, whichever period shall be longer.”

Depending on the circumstances of the case, and if all issues have been resolved or not, as well as if there is a backlog in the county court, a divorce could extend out several weeks from the 90-day minimum.

Contested divorces with several issues and disagreements to settle can easily take several months or as long as a couple of years.

Should I work with a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst?

Divorce Financial Analyst

Divorcing spouses in Iowa often retain a family law attorney to help them through the process. In simple cases, an attorney may be equipped to handle all aspects of the divorce, including the finances.

But if you have a degree of complexity to your financial situation, you might benefit from working with a divorce financial planning expert.

The best professional to help in these situations is a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA), and preferably someone who is also a Certified Financial Planner (CFP).

A CDFA has specialized training in the financial and tax implications of divorce and can work with you to help you understand the pros and cons of your options.

Related Reading: What is a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst? (and why you need one).

Is bifurcation of marital status allowed in Iowa?

Bifurcation means that both parties in a divorce can legally divide their divorce into two separate actions.

In states that allow bifurcation, the marriage is terminated without resolving issues that may have been sticking points, such as alimony or a division of assets. These are worked out in a different legal action at a later date.

Unfortunately, Iowa does not allow for bifurcated marriages. All issues in the divorce must be resolved before a divorce can be approved by the courts.

Can I cancel, refuse, contest, stop or reverse a divorce in Iowa?

No. You can’t force a person to stay married to you in Iowa.

The only thing that will slow down the process from the court’s point of view is if there are court ordered conciliation proceedings which could last as long as 60 days.

However, if a divorce petition has been filed, and both spouses change their minds and still want to be married, they can seek a dismissal of the divorce complaint in court. This can happen any time before the final decree has been entered.

What is a divorce decree?

Divorce Decree

A divorce degree is the legal document that is approved to finalize a divorce in Iowa.

It is a detailed summary of the rights and responsibilities of each party, including things such as a division of assets, child custody, visitation, alimony, child support and other similar issues.

The decree is a legally binding document, and if either party does not meet the requirements and obligations in the decree, legal action can be taken to correct any deficiencies.

What is a divorce certificate?

A divorce certificate only has basic information on it, such as the names both spouses and the date and place of a divorce, but nothing else.

A divorce certificate provides proof that a couple is no longer married and can be used as proof to complete name changes or to prove a person is single so that they can get married again.

Iowa state law allows only the person listed on the divorce record, the children, or the parents of the people listed on the record to obtain a certified copy of a divorce record. All other people making an inquiry are permitted to obtain unofficial copies for their personal records.

This is done by contacting the office of Vital Statistics. You will need to call or visit the office in person in Des Moines.

The fee to obtain a copy of a divorce record is $15, and this fee is payable by check or money order. Cash is not accepted. You can call the office and provide the information required to obtain a copy, and it will be mailed to you upon receipt of the information required. You can also write an official letter of request and mail it to the offices.

For more information, you can call 1-800-859-7375.

Changing Your Name

As you prepare your divorce forms, you will be able to choose to either restore your former name or request a court order for changing names.

The name change will be granted as part of your divorce. You can choose to receive a separate court order to make your name change official, or you can have your name change recorded on the final divorce decree. Both of these documents are acceptable for all US agencies and organizations as evidence of your name change.

Having a court order does not mean that your name change has taken effect yet. You need to contact all of your organizations to request that your records are updated.

Start by updating your name with the Social Security Administration. After you’ve done that you can start to change names everywhere else.

It’s a long process to contact each company and figure out what to send where. To lighten the load, we recommend using an Easy Name Change kit to prevent the 10+ hours of paperwork and research that you would have to do by yourself.

Read: 5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Changing my Last Name

There are a lot of divorce resources that make big claims. We’ve tested a bunch of them. Most fall short. A few stand above the rest.

These are the tools and resources we’re excited to share with you because we know they can help you have a better divorce.

If you’re looking for recommendations in any of the following areas, we’ve got you covered:

  • Online divorce
  • QDRO preparation to divide retirement plans and pensions
  • Masterclass on ninja tricks to negotiating with a narcissist
  • Co-parenting apps
  • Personal finance and budgeting apps
  • Best place to sell your engagement ring
  • And a whole lot more

You can check them out here >>

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