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Kevin O'Flaherty

Iowa, Courts seek to distribute property equitably between the spouses. This does not mean that the property will be split equally. Rather, the Court will try to divide the property in a way it feels is fair. The Court will look at the circumstances of the parties in making this decision. While this is an expansive topic, this article will provide a brief overview of distribution of marital property in Iowa. We will discuss

  • What is marital property in Iowa?
  • Property acquired prior to the marriage by one spouse.  
  • What does the court consider when dividing marital property?
  • What to do when the value of assets are disputed?
  • Gifted and inherited property
  • Future assets for the support of a spouse.  

What is marital property in Iowa?

All property of the marriage that exists at the time of the divorce, other than gifts and inheritances to one spouse, is divisible property in Iowa. This also includes debts incurred during the marriage. While not guaranteed, courts have held that an equal distribution is normally the most equitable. The court may require property be transferred or sold to try and achieve this equity.  

What about property acquired prior to the marriage by one spouse?

The property included in the divisible estate includes not only property acquired during the marriage by one or both of the parties, but property owned prior to the marriage by a party. While the Court considers whether the property was brought into the marriage, this property could still be distributed to the other spouse in a divorce. Property acquired by one spouse prior to the marriage is not automatically awarded to the spouse who acquired it.  

What does the court consider when dividing marital property?

The court divides the property equitably between the parties after considering all of the following:

  • The length of the marriage
  • The property brought to the marriage by each party
  • The contribution of each party to the marriage, including the value to each party’s contribution in homemaking and childcare services
  • The age and physical and emotional health of the parties
  • The contribution by one party to the education, training, or increased earning power of the other
  • The earning capacity of each party, including educational background, training, employment skills, work experience, length of absence from the job market, custodial responsibilities for children, and the time and expense necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the party to become self-supporting at a standard of living reasonably comparable to that enjoyed during the marriage
  • That it’s often better to give the home to the party with legal custody, or if the parties have joint legal custody, to the party having physical care of the children
  • The amount and duration of spousal support payments to the spouse and whether the property division should happen instead of such payments
  • Other economic circumstances of each party, including pensions other future interests
  • The tax consequences to each party
  • Any written agreement made by the parties concerning property distribution  
  • The provisions of an antenuptial agreement (prenups)
  • Other factors the court may determine to be relevant

Note that marital misconduct, such as adultery, is not a factor the court will not normally consider as a factor.  

What to do when the value of the property is disputed?

The district court identifies and values the assets subject to division. If the parties disagree as to the value of the marital property, each side may present evidence at trial. The trial court will make findings of fact as to how much the property is worth. Gathering evidence of an asset or debt’s value is important. If a spouse disagrees with the valuation of the property and wishes to appeal, appellate courts will normally defer to the trial court, if the valuation of assets was within the permissible range of the evidence.  

Can one spouse be ordered to pay the entirety of a debt incurred by the family?

Sometimes one spouse will incur a debt to pay for family expenses. Debts incurred by one party often become debts of the marriage, for which either party may be required to assume the responsibility to pay.  The court will not automatically divide debt incurred by a spouse to pay for family expenses equally between the spouses. The court may award one spouse the entirety of a debt incurred to pay family expenses if it is equitable considering the rest of the distribution of property. Given other distributions of debts and property, the earning capacity of the spouses, and all other factors, are considered in determining all property and debts.  

Further, if one party’s financial problems, such as a tax obligations, are self-imposed, such as being the result of bad business practices, courts may not require the other spouse to be responsible for any of that debt. Courts have held that to do so would be inequitable.

Are gifted and inherited property subject to division in divorce?

Property inherited or gifted to one party during the marriage is not subject to division unless to not do this would be inequitable to the other party or the parties’ children. The court employs a two-prong test to determine whether to divide this kind of property. First, it determines whether the property was transferred to just one of the spouses. Then, it determines whether it would be inequitable not to divide the property. In making this decision, the court looks at the donor’s intent and the circumstances surrounding the gift.  

Nonmarital assets that are available for the future support of a spouse

Courts can consider future assets available for the future support of a spouse when distributing marital property. Examples which the court has considered include:

  • A wife’s regular payments from a family trust account warranted husband receiving a larger share of the marital property
  • A husband’s social security benefits having a greater value than a wife’s social security benefits to award wife more marital assets
  • Husband receiving nondivisible military retirement pay justified adding $8,000 to wife’s marital property

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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