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It is not hard to get a divorce in Iowa but it does take time. Iowa is considered a “no fault” state. In other words, you do not have to prove your spouse caused your marriage to fail nor does your spouse have to prove you caused the marriage to fail. A Court will let parties get a divorce if either party states the marriage is broken and cannot be mended. 

Key Takeaways

It is not hard to get a divorce in Iowa but it does take time. Iowa is considered a “no fault” state. In other words, you do not have to prove your spouse caused your marriage to fail nor does your spouse have to prove you caused the marriage to fail. A Court will let parties get a divorce if either party states the marriage is broken and cannot be mended. 

What is common law marriage? 

Under Iowa law, there are two ways parties can be married. The first is by applying for a marriage license then to have a ceremony with a magistrate, judge or clergy. The second is marriage by common law. To have a marriage by common law, three things must be true. First, both spouses must have an agreement that they are married. Second, both spouses must live together continuously as partners. Third, both spouses must publicly hold themselves out as married.  

The agreement that they are married means that both spouses must intend to be married to each other and must agree that they are married (i.e. it cannot be unilateral). If the parties have only discussed marriage at a later date or one party is unsure whether to get married, there is no agreement.  

Living together continuously requires physically living together as spouses. This generally means having a physical relationship with each other though it is not required. There is no amount of time required for this element but the parties must live together consistently for a period of time. Overnights or staying for certain periods of time does not qualify.  

Finally, holding yourself out publicly as married means that you must act married and hold yourself out to others as you are married. Examples of this including using the same last name, wearing wedding bands, referring to yourselves as husband/wife or Mr. and Mrs., sharing bank accounts/credit cards, filing joint tax returns, etc. 

If these qualifications are met, a common law marriage is established. If you are unsure whether there is a common law marriage, the court can make the determination. Should a common law marriage be established but the couple no longer wants to be common law married, they will have to file for a divorce.  

What are the residency requirements to file divorce in Iowa? 

If your spouse lives in Iowa, you can file against them whether or not you live there yourself. All that is required is that your spouse is served by “personal service.” If your spouse does not live in Iowa, you must be a resident in Iowa for at least one year. In order to be considered a resident of Iowa, you must have a fixed, permanent residence in Iowa and not intend to leave the state. The county which you will file in is the court which either you or your spouse resides.  

How do I start the divorce process? 

In order to start the divorce process, you first need to fill out a petition. This petition will include various information about you and your spouse including your names, dates of birth, social security numbers, children's information, addresses of both parties, date of the marriage, and grounds for the divorce. This petition will be filed with the county Court. Additionally, you must serve the petition to your spouse. Rules of service need to be followed to serve your spouse. Typically, a Sheriff will serve the papers for a fee. 

What if I do not know where my spouse is? 

The process server you hire (likely the Sheriff) will attempt to find the spouse. If they cannot find your spouse, then mailing the papers to your spouse’s most recent address will be done. In order for this to count as service, your spouse must sign and return the form sent. Finally, if this doesn’t work, you may ask the Court to see if publishing notice in the newspaper can be done. 

What are the filing fees for a divorce? 

The fee to file a divorce petition with the Clerk of Court is typically $185. Additionally, to have the Sheriff serve your spouse, the fee is typically around $40-50. Should you be unable to pay these fees, you can apply to ask the Court to let you file without paying the fees. Finally, once the final decree is filed, you will be charged an additional $50 fee from the court.  

How long does it take to get a divorce? 

In Iowa, the divorce process at a minimum will take 90 days. That time is counted from the point in which your spouse gets copies of the petition. At that 90-day mark, the Court may say you are divorced. However, in many divorce cases, there are issues to be resolved with your spouse. Who takes care of the children, what assets belong to who, whether one spouse is entitled to spousal support, etc. These issues may elongate the divorce process and could make it last a year or more.  

What if we have children together? 

If you have children with your spouse, the divorce process will become more complicated. There is a class required by Iowa law called “Children in the Middle” you will need to go through with your spouse. You may also have to make a parenting plan outlining how you will take care of your children following the divorce. Additionally, decisions will need to be made about custody and child support. 

What if my spouse has a pension? 

Generally speaking, a pension that was earned by one spouse during the marriage is a joint asset of the married couple. During the divorce process, the pension will need to be negotiated and divided as marital assets. Should a spouse attempt to hide or otherwise not disclose their pension, they could risk losing it. 

Am I entitled to alimony (spousal support)? 

In many circumstances, some form of spousal support is awarded in an Iowa divorce. Iowa law recognizes three types of spousal support, traditional, rehabilitative and reimbursement.  

Traditional support payments are for spouses who aren’t able to become financially independent due to age, illness or other circumstances. Traditional support typically lasts either until the spouse’s circumstances change significantly, the paying spouse dies or the supported spouse remarries and the court ends support.  

Rehabilitative support is a temporary option for spouses who have the ability to support themselves, but may need financial help to get to a point of being able to support themselves. This is not a long-term solution, but it allows spouses the opportunity to submit a training or employment plan to show how they will become self-sufficient and be compensated to get themselves there. 

Finally, there’s reimbursement support. This is not common in Iowa, but it is intended to pay back the spouse for their financial support throughout the other’s career development during the marriage. For example, if one spouse was working full time and paying for the other to go through medical school, the spouse who worked full time would be reimbursed for the benefit or contribution she had to the other spouse obtaining their degree. This support ends when the spouse pays the amount the court deems the other spouse has contributed.  

What happens when the Court says my divorce is final? 

When the divorce is completed, the judge will write and issue an order about your divorce. This document is called a decree. The order will tell you and your spouse what you must do with your money, debts and property. Additionally, it will tell you what you and your spouse must do with your children. The degree is binding and you must comply with the order. Should you not, you could face either monetary fines or jail time. 

What if I don’t agree with the divorce order? 

Should you not agree with the divorce order, you may appeal the order. Until the order is appealed, you still need to comply with the order to avoid fines or jail time. There are a number of rules you must follow to appeal an order with the court. First and foremost, something important must have changed after the divorce was final for a modification to be made. There are many reasons why a modification can occur. Examples include losing your job, one spouse becoming unfit to take care of children, one spouse becoming self-sufficient who previously relied on support, etc. Should circumstances change, a modification requires a petition to modify the order.  

November 25, 2020
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