Iowa Divorce Laws

Making the decision to file for divorce is never simple. If you have come to this decision and live in Iowa, understanding some of the laws surrounding the process may make your decision process simpler, or give you more guidance as you begin the process.

Who Can File for Divorce and On What Grounds

Iowa has a longer residency requirement than many other states. In order to file for divorce here, the couple must have been living in the state for at least one year. The only exception is if the plaintiff is not a resident, in which case he or she does not have to fulfill the residency requirement.

Iowa allows no fault divorce if the spouses claim there has been a breakdown of the marriage to the point that the “legitimate objects of matrimony” have been destroyed, leaving no reasonable expectation that the marriage can be saved. There are no specified “grounds” other than these. Any of the traditional grounds for marriage, such as adultery or criminal activity, can be categories under this broad no-fault terminology.

If one of the spouses is a member of the military, it is a good idea to consult with an attorney who has experience dealing with military divorces. While members of the military who are stationed in Iowa can file for divorce in Iowa, they must make sure that they follow all aspects of military family law, so the advice of an experienced attorney is often helpful.

Division of Property

Iowa is an equitable distribution state, which means the property in the marriage is divided based on what is fair, not what is equal. Whenever possible, the parties in the divorce are encouraged to reach a settlement outside of court. If they cannot, the court will consider several factors when determining what to do with the marital property. These may include:

  • Length of the marriage
  • Property each party brought to the marriage
  • Contribution of each party to the marriage, including homemaking and childcare contributions as well as economic contributions
  • Age, physical, and emotional health of each individual
  • Whether or not one party contributed to the education, training, or career advancement of the other
  • Earning capacities
  • Whether they want to award the family home to the party who retains custody of the children
  • Any support payments ordered
  • Other economic circumstances of each party
  • Tax consequences
  • Any written agreements about property distribution
  • An antenuptial agreement
  • Any other factors the court deems relevant

Child Custody

In divorces with families who have minor children, the courts will look at what is in the child’s best interests. They will look at many factors when making this determination, including:

  • Suitability of the parents as custodians
  • Psychological and emotional needs of the children, and whether this will suffer from lack of contact with both parents
  • The parents’ ability to communicate with one another about the child’s needs
  • The involvement of the parents in the care of the child since the separation
  • The ability of the parents to support the child’s relationship with the other parent
  • Whether the child has a strong opinion about custody
  • The wishes of the parents in regards to joint custody
  • How close the parents live to one another
  • Safety of the child, other children, and the other parent
  • How close the parents live to each other
  • History of domestic abuse


Sometimes, the courts will determine that one of the spouses needs to pay spousal support. Factors considered in this determination include:

  • Length of the marriage
  • Age, physical, and emotional health of each party
  • Distribution of property
  • Educational level of each spouse at the time of the divorce
  • Earning capacity
  • Whether or not the party seeking maintenance could become self-supporting
  • Any agreement made by the parties
  • An antenuptial agreement
  • Other factors the courts deem necessary
  • Tax consequences

In cases involving minor children, the child support amount is determined based on the Percentage of Income Formula. This calculates the support amount as a percentage of the non-custodial parent’s income based on the number of children form the union. This is used when the parties cannot agree on a support amount.