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Know the Laws: Iowa

UPDATED January 4, 2017

Below you will find state-specific information about divorce in Iowa.

back to topWhat are the residency requirements to file for divorce in Iowa?

The residency requirements deal with how long each spouse must live in the state of Iowa in order to file for divorce in Iowa. 

If your spouse (the defendant) lives in Iowa, you (the plaintiff) can file against him/her if:

  1. you have lived in Iowa for any amount of time; or
  2. you have never lived in Iowa (currently or in the past).  However, if either of these is true, you need to have your spouse served by “personal service.”*  Please talk to a lawyer to understand what exactly this means.

If your spouse (the defendant) does not live in Iowa, you (the spouse who is filing for a divorce) must be a resident of Iowa for at least one year.*  In order to be considered a “resident of Iowa,”  you must have a fixed, permanent home in Iowa and have no intention of leaving Iowa.**

To figure out in which county the divorce must be filed, the petition is filed in the district court in the county where either you or your spouse lives.*** 

* See, Iowa Code § 598.5(1)(k); see also Instructions on How to Complete a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage With No Minor Children (FL-101), page 3, available on the Iowa Courts website
** See, for example, In re Marriage of Kimura, 471 N.W.2d 869 (1991)
*** Iowa Code § 598.2

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back to topWhat are the grounds for divorce in Iowa?

Grounds are legally acceptable reasons for divorce.  To file for a divorce in Iowa, you must prove that:

  1. there was a breakdown of your marriage to the extent that the purpose of the marriage was destroyed; and
  2. there is no reasonable likelihood that your marriage will be repaired.*

If the person filing for divorce (petitioner) fails to prove this to the judge at the hearing through his/her evidence, the other spouse (respondent) can present evidence to prove these things to the judge.**

* Iowa Code § 598.5(1)(g)
** Iowa Code § 598.17

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back to topCan I get alimony? What factors will a judge consider?

Alimony (also called spousal support or maintenance) is financial support paid by, or to, your spouse and can be awarded when an annulment, divorce or separate maintenance order is granted.  To decide whether or not to award alimony and for how long alimony will be paid, a judge will consider:

  1. the length of your marriage;
  2. the age and physical/emotional health of each spouse;
  3. the division of property that was ordered (as part of the annulment, divorce or separate maintenance);
  4. the education level at the time you were married and at the time you file for divorce;
  5. your earning capacity (assuming you are the spouse filing for alimony), which the judge will evaluate by looking at your educational background, training, employment skills, work experience, length of time out of the job market, any childcare responsibilities, and the time and cost that would be necessary for you to get sufficient education or training to find a job;
  6. whether you can become self-supporting after the divorce and enjoy a comparable standard of living as the one enjoyed during your marriage and how long would it take for you to get there;. 
  7. the tax consequences for you and your spouse;
  8. any agreement you and your spouse may have made regarding one spouse making a financial contribution or service contribution at one point in the marriage with an expectation that the other spouse would get his/her turn to do so later on in the marriage (for example, if you work to support your husband going to graduate school with an agreement/expectation that then he would work to support you while you go to graduate school – but he files for divorce before you have the chance to go);
  9. any agreement you and your spouse might have entered before getting married, which commonly deals with money issues in case the marriage ends in divorce or separation (a prenuptial agreement); and
  10. any other factors that the judge thinks are relevant.*

* Iowa Code § 598.21A(1)

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back to topWhat are the basic steps for filing for divorce?

While divorce laws vary by state, here are the basic steps:

  • First, you must meet the residency requirements of the state in which you wish to file.
  • Second, you must have “grounds” (a legally acceptable reason) to end your marriage.
  • Third, you must file divorce papers and have copies sent to your spouse.
  • Fourth, if your spouse disagrees with anything in the divorce papers, he will then have the opportunity to file papers telling his side. This is called “contesting the divorce.” In this case, you will have to attend a series of court appearances to sort the issues out. If your spouse does not disagree with anything, he should sign the papers and send them back to you and/or the court. This is called an “uncontested divorce.” If a certain period of time passes and your spouse does not sign the papers or file any papers of his/her own, you may be able to proceed with the divorce as an uncontested divorce anyway. You should speak to a lawyer in your state about how long you have to wait to see if your spouse answers the divorce papers before you can continue with the divorce.
  • Fifth, if there is property that you need divided, or if you need financial support from your spouse, you will have to work that out in an out-of-court settlement, or in a series of court hearings. Custody may also be decided as part of your divorce.

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back to topWhere can I find more information about divorce in Iowa?

Iowa Judicial Branch provides the following materials about divorce:

The Iowa State Bar Association has information on property distribution, alimony, and more.

Iowa Legal Aid also has a summary on divorce law, including the costs you should expect if you decide to get a divorce.

WomensLaw.org has no relationship with the above organizations and cannot vouch for the accuracy of their sites.  We provide these links for your information only.

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