What Is The Process For Getting Divorced In Iowa?

In our practice, we have discovered that many people do not have a very clear idea how the divorce process works in Iowa. At Culp, Doran & Genest, P.L.C., in Des Moines, our lawyers believe the last thing people going through a divorce need is more uncertainty. We are committed to addressing all your concerns, so you have a clear understanding of the road ahead.

How Does The Divorce Process Begin?

A divorce case begins with the filing of a petition for dissolution of marriage in the district court of the county where either party lives. Iowa is a no-fault state, which means no specific grounds for the divorce need to be alleged. The petition will usually set out in very general terms what the petitioner (the filing spouse) wants as to issues, such as:

  • Child custody
  • Child support
  • Spousal support
  • Property division
  • Payment of attorney's fees and court costs

The petition may also request a hearing to determine some or all of these issues on a temporary basis.

Once the petition has been filed, a copy of it must be served on the nonfiling spouse (respondent) this is done by a share of the process server, or by that spouse simply signing for the papers. Once service has happened, a mandatory 90-day waiting period must pass before a divorce can be granted.

Nonfiling Spouse Must Respond Within 20 Days

The nonfiling spouse must file an answer within 20 days after being served with the divorce petition. The answer is a simple written response to the general allegations set forth in the petition. If the nonfiling spouse does not file an answer within the appropriate time, a divorce decree may be granted by default.

Full Disclosure Of Martial Assets And Debts

Once the answer has been filed, the divorce case proceeds with the parties exchanging financial information and any other information relating to the issues of child custody, visitation, child support, alimony, and division of property and debts. A temporary hearing may be held to provide for some or all of the above issues on a temporary basis. If children are involved, the parents will be required to attend a four-hour course titled "Children in the Middle" that teaches the effects of divorce on children.

Mediation Is Often Required Before Trial

After both parties are satisfied that enough information has been exchanged to make decisions, they are encouraged to settle their issues without a trial before a judge. Most courts now require mediation to assist the parties in coming to an agreement.

If the parties are unable to reach an agreement, the divorce case will be scheduled for trial before a judge. Each spouse along with his or her attorney will determine the information to be presented to the judge. Information is presented through testimony, documents and other various forms. Each party has the right to hear and see all the information presented by the other party and may challenge that information through cross-examination of witnesses and by providing additional information to the judge.

If You Can't Reach An Agreement, A Judge Will Step In

Once the parties are done presenting information, the judge will make a decision. A decree of dissolution of marriage (divorce decree) is prepared in accordance with the judge's decision. If a party does not agree with a judge's decision, there is the opportunity to appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court or Court of Appeals. The entire process, from filing the petition through to the divorce decree, can take as little as 90 days, or as long as one year depending on the issues and whether the parties are able to reach agreement or have to go to trial.

Once the divorce decree has been entered, changes cannot occur unless there has been a substantial change in circumstances of the parties' lives affecting such issues as custody of children, visitation, child support or alimony. As a general rule, the distribution of property and debts in a divorce decree cannot be modified.

Protecting Your Best Interests In Paternity Actions

The procedures outlined above for divorce apply in general to an action to establish paternity of a child with some notable exceptions:

  1. Paternity actions involve parents of a child who are not married to one another. Therefore, issues involving distribution of assets and debts and alimony are not present.
  2. There is no 90-day waiting period before a paternity decree can be entered.
  3. An alleged father can dispute his paternity of the child or children in question. Paternity testing, usually through DNA samples, can be ordered. If paternity is disputed, this testing must demonstrate that the probability that the alleged father is in fact the father of the child must be at least 95%.
  4. The court may require the father to pay or contribute to the birthing and hospital expenses for the child and mother.

Family law matters are complex, so it is valuable to have an experienced attorney on your side for guidance through every step.

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