A Guide to Alimony in Iowa

An overview of Iowa alimony laws, types of spousal support, and how courts decide the final award.

Iowa Alimony

There are several important things to know when going through a divorce and alimony issue in Iowa.

Who is Entitled to Alimony in Iowa?

Alimony is commonly referred to as spousal support in Iowa.  The terms are interchangeable.

Awarding alimony is based on closing the financial gap between spouses during and after a divorce.  It is awarded to assist a lower-income spouse with enough support to provide them with a similar standard of living they enjoyed during the marriage.

It is awarded based on demonstrated need and the paying spouse’s ability to pay.  It is not automatic.

Types of Alimony in Iowa

Iowa courts can award several possible types of alimony, including:

Traditional spousal support.  Also known as permanent support, this is typically awarded in longer-duration marriages when one party has a significant impediment that keeps them from earning a sustainable standard of living.  This may be due to advanced age, a long-term or permanent disability, or the spouse has been out of the workforce for so long that reentry is not feasible. Often, permanent alimony is open-ended and may last until one spouse passes away.

Rehabilitative spousal support.  This is awarded for a fixed period and allows one party to get the education or training needed to re-enter the workforce.  Rehabilitative alimony is generally shorter in duration and timed specifically to end with the receiving spouse graduating or completing training.

Reimbursement spousal support. This is less common but may be awarded in marriages of short duration when one spouse dedicated 100% of their time completely to the educational goals of the other spouse. The result allowed them to significantly increase their earning potential. Courts base reimbursement support on the future earning potential of the parties. For example, a spouse that supported the family while the medical school went through medical school may receive reimbursement alimony.

Spousal support can also be awarded while a divorce is in progress.  This temporary spousal support is also called pendente lite alimony and helps a spouse until a final decree is issued.  At that time, the court may decide to award one of the types of alimony noted above or decide no alimony is justified and make no award.

Spouses can also draft their own alimony agreement.  As long as it is fair and just, the court will review and approve it.  Spouses often prefer to do this either through mediation or on their own to have more control over the process.

Spousal support payments are usually periodic, with a specific amount typically paid every month. Sometimes, a judge will order a spouse to pay a lump sum to the other spouse instead.  This happens when there are adequate marital assets and can be accomplished through cash or property transfer. It also eliminates the need for potential administrative oversight or enforcement actions when a spouse falls behind on payments.

Read More:  How to File for Divorce in Iowa

What Factors Are Used to Determine Alimony?

The amount and duration of awarded spousal support is at the discretion of the judge.  After determining a need and ability to pay, there are several factors the court uses to ensure a fair and just award.  Iowa divorce law does not use a pre-determined formula. Rather, the judge has broad discretion to determine the appropriate spousal support award.

Statutory factors a judge considers in awarding spousal support can be found in Iowa Code 598.21A, which states:

Upon every judgment of annulment, dissolution, or separate maintenance, the court may grant an order requiring support payments to either party for a limited or indefinite length of time after considering all of the following:

  • The length of the marriage.
  • The age and physical and emotional health of the parties.
  • The distribution of property made according to section 598.21.
  • The educational level of each party at the time of marriage and at the time the action is commenced.
  • The earning capacity of the party seeking maintenance, including educational background, training, employment skills, work experience, length of absence from the job market, responsibilities for children under either an award of custody or physical care and the time and expense necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the party to find appropriate employment.
  • The feasibility of the party seeking maintenance becoming self-supporting at a standard of living reasonably comparable to that enjoyed during the marriage, and the length of time necessary to achieve this goal.
  • The tax consequences to each party.
  • 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.
  • The provisions of a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement.
  • Other factors the court may determine to be relevant in an individual case.

The distribution of marital assets, defined as property or other jointly held assets that were acquired during the marriage, can significantly impact the amount of spousal support awarded to a requesting spouse.

For example, if a profit-sharing or trust account is awarded to one spouse, the court may not award spousal support and direct the receiving spouse to use those funds to provide sufficient income.

Read More:  Dividing a Business in a Divorce: A Complete Guide

Modifying or Terminating Spousal Support in Iowa

Spousal support payments can be modified when a substantial change in circumstances occurs.

Changes might include a job loss or reduction of wages, a loss of earning capacity due to an illness or injury, receipt of an inheritance, pension, or large gift, or changes in medical expenses of a party.  Courts may also consider changes in the number or needs of dependents of a party, retirement, changes in residences, remarriage, or other factors the court considers relevant.

A short-term issue typically will not qualify as substantial enough to warrant a change to the original alimony order.

Spousal support will end automatically when the terms of the support order are complete, if both spouses agree, either spouse dies, or the receiving spouse remarries.

Enforcing Iowa Spousal Support Awards

Unless you and your spouse agree otherwise, Iowa courts usually order the paying spouse to submit payments to the district court clerk or the collection services center.  Support orders almost always include an income withholding order (also known as wage garnishment) directed to the paying spouse’s employer when the support order is issued.

Income withholding orders direct the paying spouse’s employer to deduct the amount of support from the employee’s paycheck and route it to the appropriate agency.

If the paying spouse fails to pay support exactly as required by the court order, the supported spouse can ask the court for help enforcing the order.

The court can charge the paying spouse with contempt of court, which may result in a judge ordering the spouse to pay fines, court costs, attorney fees, or even order time in jail.

Read More:  How to Prepare for a Divorce Trial

Spousal Support and Taxes

Due to recent changes in Federal laws, the payer cannot deduct alimony or separate maintenance payments under a divorce or separation instrument executed after 2018. These payments are also not included as taxable income for recipients.

The same is true of alimony paid under a divorce or separation instrument executed before 2019 and modified after 2018 if the modification expressly states that the alimony isn’t deductible to the payor spouse or included in the income of the recipient spouse.

Taxpayers paying alimony under a divorce agreement executed before 2019 can deduct those payments from taxes when the following criteria are met:

  • The recipient must be a spouse or former spouse
  • There must be a written divorce or separation instrument
  • Support must be made with cash payments (such as checks and money orders)
  • Maintenance does not continue after the recipient dies
  • The parties must live apart, residing in different households
  • The parties must file separate tax returns (they cannot file a joint return and claim the alimony deduction)
  • The court-ordered payment of alimony cannot state that payments are not deductible

Iowa Alimony FAQs

Do we need a court order if we have already agreed on divorce and alimony terms?

Yes.  Even if you and your spouse agree to the terms of your divorce, the court must still review and approve those terms.  You are not divorced until a judge signs the final “decree of dissolution of marriage.”

Can alimony be waived by a prenuptial agreement?

Courts consider prenuptial agreements as valid contracts.  The terms in those agreements take precedence in alimony negotiations. If the prenuptial agreement limits or does not allow alimony, then no alimony will usually be awarded in a divorce.

Is marital fault considered in Iowa when deciding alimony?

Iowa considers marital fault when determining alimony payments. This means that “at-fault” divorces, which may be caused by infidelity, abuse, etc., can result in the at-fault party paying more “punitive” alimony.

How does child support affect spousal support in Iowa?

Child support is awarded only to protect children’s best interests, whether there is a marriage or not. It is presumptively set by a set of guidelines and may be raised or lowered if the circumstances and finances of the parties call for it.

Also, visitation and child support do not depend on each other, and withholding visitation for child support and vice versa is not looked upon favorably by courts.  It may affect both child and spousal support requests.

If the custodian of the child or children of the marriage is unable to support themselves due to the children being of an age or condition that hinders an individual’s ability to support said children, the court may grant both child support and spousal support to the custodial parent.

When someone is ordered to pay child support and spousal support, the amount for spousal support awarded will likely be less because the paying spouse will have less income to provide.

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