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Divorce/Family Law

This section is designed as a basic primer on Iowa's laws concerning divorce, child custody, child support, paternity, and other family law issues. This section also includes forms you must use if representing yourself in a divorce or an action to modify a child support order, as well as the worksheets, tables, and rules regarding child support guidelines.

Iowa Law Overview

In Iowa, divorce is formally known as "dissolution of marriage," a term that is legally synonymous with "divorce." The statutes pertaining to dissolution of marriage are found in Chapter 598 of the Iowa Code.  Iowa recognizes "no fault divorce," which allows a marriage to be dissolved when there is evidence of a breakdown of the relationship with no likelihood it can be preserved. A spouse is not required to blame the other spouse for any particular misdeed or wrong. A judge may require parties to participate in conciliation efforts for a period of sixty days. Iowa law requires a ninety-day waiting period, from the date a petition is served, before the court may enter a final decree. Under certain circumstances the court may waive the waiting period.

Must an attorney represent me?  

Although professional legal representation is not mandatory, it is often warranted because of the complex nature of the law and court procedures. Litigants who represent themselves may miss important issues or fail to anticipate the consequences of their lawsuits, such as the tax implications of a divorce. For these reasons, we strongly suggest that people who are contemplating divorce consult with an attorney. 

How to Begin a Divorce Proceeding 

A person seeking a divorce must file a written Petition for Dissolution of Marriage with the clerk of court office and pay a filing fee.  A Guide and Forms for Self-Represented Litigants are available for no charge.  Guide and FormsA copy of the petition together with an original notice must be served on the opposing party. The opposing party then has a reasonable time to file an answer. If the issue is contested, the case may eventually be set for hearing or trial before a judge. Each judicial district may have special procedures as part of the divorce process, including mandatory mediation.  

What should I do if I'm served with divorce papers? 

First, we suggest that you consult with an attorney. Persons against whom a civil lawsuit has been filed have the opportunity to file a response, known as an answer.  Please note that there is a fixed period of time in which a person must file their answer: generally the deadline is twenty-calendar days from the date of service (the date the defendant receives a copy of the petition), but this could vary according to individual circumstances of the case. A Guide and Forms for Self-Represented Litigants are available for no charge.  Guide and Forms.

I am getting divorced and I want to change my name to my maiden name. 

This can be easily done while the dissolution action is pending. Include your request for name change in your petition and the court can include the change in the final decree.    

If your dissolution is final and your name was not changed in the final decree, you must use the procedure in Iowa Code section 598.37. See the information located elsewhere on this site for changing your name.  

How do I determine if my divorce is final?  

As a party to a lawsuit, you or your attorney should have received a copy of the final decree. If you do not have a copy, you will need to go to the clerk of court office in the county where the dissolution was filed

How do I change certain provisions in my divorce decree?  

Iowa law allows a court to subsequently modify provisions of a dissolution decree when there is a substantial change in circumstances such as: 

·         Changes in employment or earning capacity. 

·         Receipt by one party of an inheritance, pension or gift. 

·         Changes in medical expenses of one party. 

·         Changes in the number of needs of dependents. 

·         Changes in residence. 

·         Remarriage. 

·         Changes in the needs of children governed by the decree. 

·         Contempt of existing orders. 

To begin an action you must file a written Application to Modify Decree of Dissolution of Marriage at the clerk of court office and pay a filing fee. The procedure is similar to filing for a divorce: the opposing party is served a copy of the petition and allowed a period of time to answer. If the opposing party contests the case, it may eventually be set for hearing in front of a judge. If you and the opposing party agree ahead of time to the terms of the modification you may file a written agreement, called a "stipulation," with the petition.    

Like dissolution proceedings, modifications are often complicated, and therefore, we advise people to seek advice and assistance from competent legal counsel.   

I have a divorce decree from another state that I want to enforce in Iowa.  

In general, Iowa must provide full faith and credit to court orders of other states. However, enforcing a dissolution order, particularly an order for child support, custody, or visitation, from another state may be quite complicated. Seek assistance from an attorney. If the matter involves the question of enforcing a child support order, the Child Support Recovery Unit may assist you. 

Legal Separation 

The laws concerning legal separation can be found at Iowa Code section 598.28

Annulling a Marriage 

For laws concerning annulment of marriage see Iowa Code section 598.28. 



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