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Joseph Lyons

Spouses going through a divorce may wonder whether an affair by either spouse will affect the divorce. This article will discuss: 

  • Is a spouse’s affair grounds for divorce in Iowa? 
  • Will a spouse’s affair affect distribution of property? 
  • Will a spouse’s affair affect the amount of support they are required to pay? 
  • Will a spouse’s affair affect the custody order? 


Is a spouse’s affair grounds for a divorce in Iowa? 


Iowa is a “no fault” divorce state. This means the marriage will be dissolved when there is evidence of a breakdown of the marital relationship with no likelihood it can be preserved. Someone petitioning for a divorce must allege there has been this breakdown of the marriage relationship. The petitioner is not required to blame the other spouse for any particular wrong. If a court asks a party to present evidence of the breakdown of the marriage, or likelihood the marriage could be preserved, a party may introduce testimony or other evidence of the affair. However, the affair on its own is not grounds for divorce in Iowa.  


Will a spouse’s affair affect distribution of property? 


Iowa is an “equitable distribution” state. This means the court will divide all property, whether it was acquired before or after the marriage, in a way the court deems equitable. Iowa Code Chapter 598.21 lists several factors the court must consider in distributing property. Marital fault is not listed as one of the factors. There is a catch-all provision which allows the court to consider other relevant factors when equitably distributing property, but there is no caselaw finding that courts consider a spouse’s infidelity.  

At least one case involves a couple which made a written agreement where, if the husband’s infidelity led to the couple’s divorce, then would make certain payments and distributions of property to the wife in the divorce. When the parties did end up divorcing because of the affair, the court flatly rejected the enforcement of the agreement. The court held a theme of caselaw is that contracts which attempt to regulate the conduct of spouses during the marital relationship are not enforceable. The enforcement of such a contract would intrude on marriage intimacy and inject fault back into divorce proceedings. Therefore, any similar agreements will likely be unenforceable.  


Will a spouse’s affair affect the amount of support they are required to pay? 


Child support is determined based on a set, mathematical formula set out by the Iowa Supreme Court. While the law allows for variances from the child support guidelines, it is unlikely a court would consider an affair as grounds for deviating from the guidelines.  


The spousal support statute does not list a party’s infidelity as a reason for allowing spousal support. There is a catch-all provision for considering factors not already listed. While very old caselaw held that a spouse’s affair could play a role in the issuance of alimony, caselaw has developed in a way that this is unlikely to resume in modern times. Iowa Courts have been clear that Iowa has three primary kinds of spousal support: traditional, rehabilitative, and reimbursement, with a more minor form called “transitional” spousal support. All these kinds of spousal support help a spouse financially, to help them gain financial stability after the marriage, or to reimburse them financial assistance provided during the marriage. They are not punitive and are not for punishing a spouse for his or her past discretions. While Courts are not mandated to adhere to the four types of spousal support by statute, the courts have held as recently as 2018 that a granting of child support outside those four situations would need to be an extraordinary circumstance. As affairs are common, it is not likely a Court would award spousal support only based on an affair.  


Can an affair impact a custody determination? 


In custody determinations, Iowa Courts only consider a party’s indiscretions if the child was harmed by that behavior. The court does not use custody as a reward or punishment for the parent’s past behaviors. It is therefore unlikely that the Court would base an award of custody based on a party’s affair, absent other factors. 


However, it is possible an affair could harm the relationship between the parties enough that it begins to affect other factors the Court looks at, such as the ability of the parties to communicate or the ability of the parties to help the children have a good parental relationship with the other parent. Of course, if the person with whom the spouse was having an affair had concerns, such as a significant criminal history, it could raise questions as to the parent’s judgment and weigh against them. If that person were exposed to the children, it would weigh even more heavily against that parent.  

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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