In this article...

In this article, we discuss this important difference through answering the questions below:

  • Who has legal custody of a child when the parents are not married in Iowa?
  • Do we need a court order if we already agree on custody?
  • What is physical custody in Iowa?
  • What are the options for physical custody in Iowa?
  • What is legal custody in Iowa?
  • What are the options for legal custody in Iowa?
  • What factors are used to determine custody in Iowa?
  • Can my custody arrangement later be modified?
  • Do I need an attorney to deal with child custody in Iowa?

Have you and your child’s other parent recently split? Perhaps you have realized that you may need a custody arrangement on file with the Iowa Court. If so, it will be very important that you understand the difference between the two types of custody in Iowa – physical custody and legal custody. In this article, we discuss this important difference through answering the questions below:

  • Who has legal custody of a child when the parents are not married in Iowa?
  • Do we need a court order if we already agree on custody?
  • What is physical custody in Iowa?
  • What are the options for physical custody in Iowa?
  • What is legal custody in Iowa?
  • What are the options for legal custody in Iowa?
  • What factors are used to determine custody in Iowa?
  • Can my custody arrangement later be modified?
  • Do I need an attorney to deal with child custody in Iowa?

Who has legal custody of a child when the parents are not married in Iowa?

In Iowa, if a couple has children under the age of eighteen, the Iowa court will play a role in determining the proper parenting plan, regardless of whether the couple was married or not. In fact, custody determinations are made exactly the same way in a divorce and a custody case.  

Do we need a court order if we already agree on custody?

If you and your ex agree on custody, that is great! However, if you want the court to be able to later enforce the agreement should one party violate the terms of the agreement, then you will need to get a court order approving the agreed-to terms.  

What is physical custody in Iowa?

Physical custody refers to the parental home where the child will reside, or in other words, the child’s legal residence. The parent whose home the child or children will regularly reside is called the ‘custodial’ parent. By default, the other parent, who is typically awarded visitation, is called the ‘noncustodial’ parent. The custodial parent, or physical custodian, is responsible for the day-to-day decisions that affect the child(ren).  

What are the options for physical custody in Iowa?

Iowa courts will typically give one parent primary physical care and award the other visitation. As mentioned above, the parent given primary physical care is the custodial parent and the parent who gets visitation is the noncustodial parent. The primary custodian’s rights are superior in matters that affect the day-to-day activities of the child, though the noncustodial parent gains this responsibility during their visitation time.  

In certain circumstances, Iowa courts may also award “shared physical care” or “joint physical care”. The court may award joint or shared physical care at the request of either party, though it will have to be best for the child(ren). Under a shared care arrangement, both parents equally share the responsibility of providing regular care for the child and neither parent’s rights trump the other.  

What is legal custody in Iowa?

Legal custody refers to the rights and responsibilities each parent has towards making decisions concerning their child or children. This includes decisions about medical care, extracurricular activity, religious activity, education, and other major life decisions.  

What are the options for legal custody in Iowa?

Iowa typically awards parties’ joint legal custody, meaning each parent equally shares the decision-making responsibility and neither parent’s rights trump the other. In the event that one parent is awarded primary physical care and joint legal custody, this practically means that the custodial parent must keep the noncustodial parent informed of major decisions concerning the child.  

Under certain circumstances, the Court determines that the parties cannot effectively communicate, and thus it is better for one parent to make major decisions concerning the children. If this is the case, one parent will be awarded sole legal custody.  

Iowa favors joint legal custody and only awards sole legal custody in special circumstances, such as when there has been a history of domestic abuse between the parties. If either party requests joint legal custody, the Court must award it unless, based upon the factors below, it is within the best interest of the children that one parent make decisions alone. These factors include:  

  • History of domestic abuse;
  • Ability of the parents to communicate with each other;
  • Each parent’s support of the other’s relationship with the child;
  • Geographic proximity of the parents;
  • Whether a parent has allowed a registered sex offender access to the child;
  • Care of the child since separation; etc.

What factors are used to determine custody in Iowa?

In making a custody determination, the Iowa Court must order an arrangement that gives the child the best opportunity for continuing physical and emotional contact with both parents, and the arrangement that encourages shared responsibility between the parents, unless it would harm to any of the parties involved is likely. The standard is always what is within “the best interest of the child(ren)”.  

Can my custody arrangement later be modified?

Yes; your custody arrangement may be modified if the Iowa court determines that there has been a “substantial change in the circumstances”. The party seeking the modification must petition the court asking for a modification and explaining the change in the circumstances. Relevant changes in the circumstances that may necessitate a modification include changes in employment, income or earning capacity, changes in the health of a party, relocation of a party, etc.  

Do I need an attorney to deal with child custody in Iowa?

While you do not need to hire an attorney to deal child custody in Iowa, custody matters can become complicated, especially if there is some disagreement. There are important issues and considerations that your attorney will help explain. Therefore, it may be advisable to consult with an attorney to fully understand your rights and responsibilities. Contact an experienced family law attorney at O’Flaherty Law today at (630) 324-6666 or schedule a consultation.  

Posted 
August 24, 2021
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