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Kevin O'Flaherty

In this article, we explain guardianship and divorce in Iowa. We answer the questions “Can a guardian file for divorce on behalf of a ward in Iowa?”, “What is the process for the guardian to file the divorce in Iowa?”, and can a guardian seek annulment of a ward’s marriage based on disability in Iowa?” For more information on setting up a guardianship in Iowa check out How to Set Up a Guardianship in Iowa.

Can a guardian file for divorce on behalf of a ward in Iowa?

Guardianship can be plenary or limited, with the difference being that a plenary guardianship is a full guardianship similar to how a parent would have the power to make all legal and medical decisions for the child, whereas a limited guardianship can only make decisions based on the stipulations set force in the guardianship agreement. In Iowa, the court ultimately determines the degree of guardianship necessary, with the goal of maintaining the ward’s rights and only giving the guardian what decision-making power is absolutely essential. 

While these types of cases are not numerous, there are plenty of examples that stem from issues completely outside of a married couple’s feelings toward each other. For example, an older married couple on their second marriage with grown children; one spouse becomes ill and unable to make reasonable decisions and a child must become the guardian. The child determines that financially it is in the best interest of the ill spouse to be divorced. But is this enough to convince a court? Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as claiming plenary guardianship or best financial interest. 

It’s very unlikely that a limited guardianship would be able to initiate divorce proceedings in Iowa. Could they petition? Possibly, but it would likely get denied outright.

A plenary guardian has the power to initiate divorce proceedings and to move forward on divorce proceedings that were initiated before the guardianship began. 

The Process For a Guardian Filing For Divorce On Behalf of a Ward in Iowa

Filing for divorce is an extremely personal decision, and thus it is not taken lightly when presented to the court by the guardian. The guardian must first petition the probate court with jurisdiction of the guardianship case to seek permission to initiate the dissolution of marriage. The guardian will need to present her case with clear and convincing evidence. Since Iowa courts don’t give much guidance on making decisions for someone else they will usually try their best to award decisions based on what the ward would have done; this is called substitute judgment. While there are no hard and fast guidelines for substitute judgment, there are important factors to consider:

  • How would you like to be treated if others were making the decision for you;
  • Actions and decisions must always be aligned with the best interest of the ward and maximize any degree of independence for the ward; and
  • In considering the best interest for the ward, always take into account the benefits and harms associated with the decisions and consider any and all alternatives

Seeking Annulment Based on Disability?

A guardian can seek to annul the potential marriage of the ward. The guardian must petition the annulment within 90 days of learning of the ward’s inability to consent to the marriage. Again, the case must be brought up to the court handling the guardianship and a decision will be made based on substitute judgment.

The individual to be married must be able to fully understand the nature, effect, duties, and obligations required by marriage or it’s likely the annulment will proceed. It is entirely possible for a court to award guardianship over a ward due to disability, but the ward still having the capacity in the eyes of the court to proceed with a marriage. This will typically be the case in a limited guardianship arrangement.

Disclaimer: The information provided on this blog is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Each individual's legal needs are unique, and these materials may not be applicable to your legal situation. Always seek the advice of a competent attorney with any questions you may have regarding a legal issue. Do not disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.


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