Divorce in Iowa: everything you need to know

1 min readLast updated February 22, 2024by Unbiased team

From filing and records to costs and more, this guide will take you through divorce in Iowa and help you make informed decisions.

Summary

  • There are two types of divorce in Iowa – contested and uncontested.  

  • The median cost of divorce in the US is $7,000, but this can fluctuate massively depending on your unique circumstances.

  • Iowa is a no-fault divorce state.

  • A financial advisor can help you navigate your finances during a divorce and rebuild afterward.

What are the different types of divorce in Iowa?

There are two main types of divorce in Iowa: uncontested and contested.

Need help rebuilding your finances after divorce?

A financial advisor can guide you through your financial recovery both during and after your divorce.
  • An uncontested divorce is when you and your spouse agree on all the issues of the divorce, such as property division, alimony, child custody, and child support. You can file a joint petition for divorce and submit a written agreement that outlines the terms of your divorce. An uncontested divorce is usually faster, cheaper, and less stressful than a contested divorce.

  • A contested divorce is when you and your spouse disagree on one or more issues of the divorce. You will have to file a separate petition for divorce and serve it on your spouse. Your spouse will have to file an answer and a counterclaim, if any. A contested divorce may involve discovery, motions, hearings, and a trial. A contested divorce is usually more complicated, expensive, and time-consuming than an uncontested divorce.

How much does a divorce cost in Iowa?

The cost of divorce in Iowa depends on many factors, such as whether you have children, whether you agree to the terms of the divorce, and whether you hire a lawyer.

Some of the costs you may have to pay include:

  • Filing fee: The filing fee for a divorce in Iowa is $185, but you may qualify for a fee waiver if you have a low income. You can apply for a fee waiver by filling out a form and submitting it to the court with proof of your income and expenses.

  • Service fee: The service fee for a divorce in Iowa varies depending on how you serve your spouse. If you use personal service, you may have to pay the sheriff or the private process server a fee, which can range from $20 to $100 or more. If you use certified mail, you may have to pay the postal service a fee, which can be around $10 or more.

  • Mediation fee: The mediation fee for a divorce in Iowa depends on the mediator you choose and the length of the mediation session. Some mediators charge by the hour, while others charge a flat fee. The average mediation fee in Iowa is about $200 per hour, but it can vary widely. You may qualify for a fee waiver if you have a low income.

  • Court costs: The court costs for a divorce in Iowa include the fees for copying, filing, and certifying documents, as well as the fees for subpoenas, transcripts, and witnesses. The court costs for a divorce in Iowa can range from $50 to $500 or more, depending on the complexity of your case.

  • Lawyer fees: The lawyer fees for a divorce in Iowa depend on the lawyer you hire, the services they provide, and the time they spend on your case. Some lawyers charge by the hour, while others charge a flat fee or a retainer. The average lawyer fee in Iowa is about $250 per hour, but it can vary widely. You may qualify for free or low-cost legal assistance if you have a low income.

How do you file for divorce in Iowa?

The steps to file for divorce in Iowa may vary depending on your situation, but they generally include the following:

  • Prepare the divorce papers: You can use the Iowa Interactive Court Forms website to create the forms you need, or you can get them from the clerk of court in your county. You will need to fill out a petition for dissolution of marriage, a confidential information form, a vital statistics form, and other forms depending on your case. You will also need to attach a copy of your marriage certificate and any other documents that support your claims.

  • File the divorce papers: You will need to file the original and two copies of the divorce papers with the clerk of court in the county where you or your spouse live. You will have to pay a filing fee of $185 unless you qualify for a fee waiver. You will get a case number and a judge assigned to your case.

  • Serve the divorce papers: You will need to serve a copy of the divorce papers on your spouse within 90 days of filing. You can serve your spouse by personal service, which means having a sheriff or a private process server deliver the papers to your spouse in person. You can also serve your spouse by certified mail, which means sending the papers by mail with a return receipt requested. You will need to file a proof of service with the court to show that your spouse received the papers.

  • Wait for a response: Your spouse will have 20 days to file an answer and a counterclaim, if any, after being served. If your spouse does not respond, you may ask the court for a default judgment, which means the court will grant your divorce based on your petition. If your spouse responds, you will have to proceed to the next steps.

  • Attend mediation: The court may order you and your spouse to attend mediation, which is a process where a neutral third party helps you resolve your disputes. Mediation is voluntary, confidential, and non-binding. You may have to pay for the mediator’s fees unless you qualify for a fee waiver. If you reach an agreement through mediation, you will have to submit it to the court for approval. If you do not reach an agreement, you will have to go to trial.

  • Go to trial: If you and your spouse cannot settle your issues, you will have to go to trial, where a judge will hear your case and make a decision. You may have to present evidence, witnesses, and arguments to support your claims. You may also have to cross-examine your spouse and their witnesses. The judge will issue a decree of dissolution of marriage, which is the final order that ends your marriage and sets the terms of your divorce.

How do you split assets in a divorce in Iowa?

One of the main issues in a divorce is how to divide the assets that you and your spouse own. Assets can include real estate, vehicles, furniture, jewelry, bank accounts, retirement accounts, stocks, bonds, and other investments. In Iowa, the court will divide your assets according to the principle of equitable distribution, which means the court will try to divide them fairly but not necessarily equally.

The court will only divide the assets that are considered marital property, which is any property that you and your spouse acquired during your marriage, regardless of whose name is on it.

The court will not divide the assets that are considered separate property, which is any property that you or your spouse owned before your marriage or that you received as a gift or inheritance during your marriage.

The court will consider various factors when dividing your assets, such as:

  • The contribution of each spouse to the acquisition, preservation, or improvement of the assets, including the contribution of a spouse as a homemaker or a parent

  • The value of each spouse’s separate property

  • The length of the marriage

  • The age and physical and emotional health of the spouses

  • The economic circumstances of the spouses

  • The tax consequences of the asset division

  • The debts and liabilities of the spouses

  • The prenuptial or postnuptial agreements of the spouses, if any

  • Any other relevant factors

How does alimony work in Iowa?

Alimony is not automatic in Iowa, and the court may or may not award it, depending on the circumstances.

The court will consider various factors when awarding alimony, such as:

  • The length of the marriage

  • The earning capacity of each spouse

  • The present and future income of each spouse

  • The age and physical and emotional health of the spouses

  • The education and training of each spouse

  • The property and debts of the spouses

  • The tax consequences of the alimony

  • The agreement of the spouses, if any

  • Any other relevant factors

The court may award different types of alimony, such as:

  • Temporary alimony, which is paid during the divorce process to help the lower-earning spouse meet their living expenses

  • Rehabilitative alimony, which is paid for a limited period of time to help the lower-earning spouse obtain education, training, or employment

  • Reimbursement alimony, which is paid to compensate the lower-earning spouse for their contribution to the higher-earning spouse’s education, training, or career

  • Traditional alimony, which is paid for an indefinite period of time to help the lower-earning spouse maintain their standard of living

The amount and duration of alimony will depend on the specific facts of each case. The court may modify or terminate alimony if there is a substantial change in circumstances, such as remarriage, cohabitation, retirement, disability, or death.

What happens to children during a divorce in Iowa?

In Iowa, the court will make decisions regarding child custody, visitation, and support based on the best interests of the children, taking into account their physical, emotional, and educational needs.

The court will consider various factors, such as:

  • The wishes of the children, if they are old enough and mature enough to express them

  • The wishes of the parents, if they are reasonable and consistent with the children’s best interests

  • The relationship of the children with each parent and their siblings

  • The stability and continuity of the children’s home, school, and community

  • The mental and physical health of the parents and the children

  • The ability and willingness of each parent to cooperate and communicate with the other parent and to support the children’s relationship with the other parent

  • The history of domestic violence, abuse, neglect, or substance abuse by either parent

  • Any other relevant factors

The court may order joint or sole custody, depending on the situation.

Joint custody means that both parents share the legal authority and responsibility to make decisions for the children.

Sole custody means that one parent has the legal authority and responsibility to make decisions for the children while the other parent has visitation rights.

How to protect your finances when going through a divorce in Iowa

Going through a divorce can be a stressful and challenging time, especially when it comes to finances.

You may have many questions and concerns about how to protect your assets, manage your debts, and plan for your future.

Here are some ways you can protect your money when going through a divorce:

  • Organize your finances: Before filing for divorce, gather all relevant financial information and documents, such as tax returns, bank statements, credit card bills, and retirement accounts. Make a list of all assets and liabilities, both marital and non-marital. This will help you and your spouse negotiate a fair distribution of property and debts.

  • Consider mediation: Mediation is a process where you and your spouse work with a neutral third party to resolve issues related to your divorce, such as property division, alimony, child custody, and child support. Mediation can be less time-consuming, less expensive, and less stressful than going to court. It can also help you maintain a cooperative relationship with your spouse after the divorce.

  • Think about Social Security: If you have been married for at least 10 years, you may be eligible to receive Social Security benefits based on your ex-spouse’s record. This can provide valuable income during retirement, especially if your ex-spouse earned more than you. However, certain criteria must be met to qualify for this benefit.

  • Seek professional help: Divorce can significantly impact your financial situation. Consider consulting with a financial advisor specializing in divorce to help you navigate these changes and plan for your future.

Get expert financial advice

A financial advisor can help you assess your current financial status, create a post-divorce budget, and develop a long-term financial plan that aligns with your needs and goals.

Unbiased can connect you with a financial advisor perfectly suited to meet your needs. Simply provide some details about what you’re looking for, and Unbiased’s platform will match you with your advisor.

Find your financial advisor with Unbiased today.

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Unbiased team

Our team of writers, who have decades of experience writing about personal finance, including investing and retirement, are here to help you find out what you must know about life’s biggest financial decisions.

Need help rebuilding your finances after divorce?

A financial advisor can guide you through your financial recovery both during and after your divorce.