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Child Custody 


Iowa Law Overview 


Iowa law requires that the court, "insofar as is reasonable and in the best interests of the child," shall order the custody award, including liberal visitation rights where appropriate, which will assure the child the opportunity for maximum continuing physical and emotional contact with both parents after the parents have separated and dissolved the marriage, and which will encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities of raising the child unless physical harm or significant emotional harm to the child, other children, or a parent is likely to result from such contact with one parent. 

Custody means "an award of the rights of legal custody of a minor child to a parent under which the parent has legal custodial rights and responsibilities toward the child.  Rights and responsibilities of legal custody include, but are not limited to decision-making affecting the child's legal status, medical care, education, extracurricular activities, and religious instruction."

Joint custody means "an award of legal custody of a minor child to both parents jointly." "Neither parent has legal custodial rights superior to those of the other parent."  An award of joint custody does not necessarily mean that the child must spend equal time with or live with both parents.   

Joint physical care "means an award of physical care of a minor child to both joint legal custodial parents."   An award of joint physical care involves shared parenting time in which each parent maintains a home for the child and provides routine physical care for the child.  As in joint custody, neither parent has physical care rights superior to the other parent.

Conditions for Joint Custody

When parents do not agree to joint custody, the court shall consider granting joint custody upon application of a parent.  When determining the joint custody arrangement that is best for the child, the court must consider:

  • Whether each parent would be a suitable custodian for the child
  • Whether the psychological and emotional need and development of the child will suffer due to lack of active contact with and attention from both parents
  • Whether the parents can communicate with each other concerning the child's needs
  • Whether both parents have actively cared for the child before and since the separation
  • Whether each parent can support the other's relationship with the child
  • Whether the custody arrangement is in accord with the child's wishes or whether the child has strong opposition, taking into account the child's age and maturity
  • Whether one or both parents agree or are opposed to joint custody
  • The geographic proximity of the parents
  • The safety of the child or other children or the other parent would be jeopardized by an award of joint custody or by unsupervised or unrestricted supervision
  • Whether a history of domestic abuse exists


If the court finds a history of domestic abuse exists, a rebuttable presumption against awarding joint custody exists. 


If the court awards joint custody to both parents, the court may award joint physical care upon the request of either parent.   


Before awarding custody, the court may require the parties to participate in mediation. The cost of the mediation is the responsibility of the parties. Mediation services are available throughout Iowa.  


For more information about Iowa's child custody laws see Iowa Code section 598.41.  

Enforcement of Custody or Visitation Orders 

When a parent fails to comply with the provisions of a custody or visitation order and the other parent wants the court to enforce those provisions, the parent must file a court action against the other parent.  If a party is found to have violated a court order, the court can find the party "in contempt." If the court finds a party in contempt of court, the court can use certain coercive measures to try to gain the party's compliance.  If you want to enforce the provisions of a dissolution decree, consult a lawyer.

Modification of Custody Orders  

Custody and visitation orders may be modified if the court finds that a substantial change of circumstances has occurred. A party must apply to the court for a modification of an order.   See the "Divorce" page of this section of the website for more information on modification of a decree.



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