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Kevin O'Flaherty

In this article, we examine changes in family law in Iowa for 2021. We examine:

  • Changes to Iowa Spousal Support (Alimony);
  • How changes in tax policy affect Iowa Spousal Support Law;
  • Changes in child support Law;
  • New Ways to pay child support
  • How to waive federal withdrawal of child support
  • New considerations when requesting child support variances
  • Iowa child custody law in 2021
  • Legal vs Physical custody
  • How Courts determine custody

Changes to Iowa Spousal Support (Alimony) Law for 2021

Tax Changes May Justify Lower Support Orders

Former President Trump’s 2019 tax reforms changed certain aspects of Iowa’s spousal support laws. Under these tax reforms, spousal support payments are no longer tax-deductible for the payor spouse, and not included in gross income calculations. Also, unlike the former law, the recipient spouse no longer needs to include the spousal support payments in their gross income. This places the tax burden on the payor spouse, as they will pay taxes on the spousal support money twice. They will pay both when taxes are taken out by his or her employer, and again when gross income is calculated and taxed. Many at the time predicted this would lead to courts lowering spousal support payments.

Heading into 2021, it appears this prediction was accurate. In Iowa, spousal support continues to be governed by Iowa Code Section 598.21A, which states the court may grant an order requiring support payments for a limited or indefinite length of time after considering several factors. One of the factors the court must consider under 598.21A is the tax consequences to each party. In one Iowa Supreme Court decision, the Court discussed the tax consequences of the new law, and ultimately used the changed tax considerations as one of the reasons to lower the payor’s amount of support payments. Courts will likely continue this trend of awarding lower spousal support payments under the new law.

2020 Changes to Iowa Child Support Law

There have not been any significant recent changes to Iowa Child Support Law. The most recent changes occurred in 2018 with changes to how health care costs are calculated. Iowa continues to calculate child support and medical support payments is through child support guidelines, which are created by the Iowa Supreme Court.

Federal Withholding

Beginning October 1, 2019, Federal law began requiring $35 to be withheld from a family’s support payments. The withholding begins after the family has received $550 in support payments. This can also be accepted or adjusted depending on the family’s circumstances. The fee will be waived if the payee or any child in the case ever received FIP, TANF, or ADC benefits in Iowa or another state.

New Ways to Pay

Iowa is now accepting new ways to pay child support. Beginning in 2020, the Child Support Recovery Unit is accepting MoneyGram cash payments, which are available at retailers like CVS PHarmacy and Walmart. A payor will need to provide an Iowa Child Support Recovery Unit Case number, and the Iowa receives code 14659. They also are allowing payments through the cash payment provider PayNearMe. There are directions for doing this on the Child Support Recovery Unit Website.

Application Fee Eliminated

The Child Support Recovery Unit (CSRU) also eliminated its $25 application fee for applicants not on public assistance. They can also receive payment alerts through email, or alerts on when a payment has been deposited or funds are getting low.

New Court Forms

Finally for those wishing to represent themselves in child support actions, the Iowa Judicial Branch provided new forms which may be helpful in child support matters. These forms are available at the Iowa Judicial Branch website.

Courts Must Consider Child Care Costs if Variance Requested

There were also minor changes made in 2018 in how Courts can examine whether or not they will grant a variance to the child support guidelines. Someone may request a variance if they want the Court to enter an amount of support different from what the guidelines require. Typically courts may not vary from the guidelines unless there is a record or written finding, based on stated reasons, that the guidelines would be unjust or inappropriate as determined under the criteria prescribed by the Supreme Court. Courts now must consider costs of child care when determining whether a variance should be awarded.

Changes to Iowa Custody Law 2021

There have been no recent statutory changes to Iowa Custody Law. Custody Law in 2021 will largely reflect previous Law

Legal vs Physical Custody

There are two kinds of custody in Iowa. Legal custody is the ability for parents to make decisions regarding the child. Joint legal custody means both parents have a right to help make these decisions. Sole legal custody means only one parent can make these decisions. These decisions include educational decisions including where and how a child will attend school, medical decisions, extracurricular decisions, and religious decisions.

Physical custody is where the child lives. A parent with physical custody is responsible for maintaining the child’s home and providing routine care for the child. If parents have shared physical custody, both parents will have these responsibilities. If one parent is granted primary physical custody, that parent bears these responsibilities. Usually, the parent without physical custody will receive visitation ordered by the Court. The parent the child lives with most of the time is referred to as the custodial parent. The parent the child does not live with primarily is referred to as the non-custodial parent.

While parents may make informal decisions about legal and physical custody, these custody arrangements are not legally enforceable unless there is an order of the Court. Until there is a decision of the Court, both legally established parents have equal legal and physical rights to the child.

Deciding Custody

The primary consideration in all custody cases is the best interests of the children. In determining what kind of custody each parent should have, the Court must consider a number of things, including:

  • A parent exhibits immoral behavior that could interfere with the child’s health, safety, or welfare;
  • A parent’s substance abuse (drugs or alcohol);
  • A parent who is violent or abusive;
  • The geographic proximity of the parents;
  • Whether one or both parents agree or are opposed to joint custody;
  • Whether both parents have actively cared for the child before and since the separation;
  • Whether each parent would be a suitable custodian for the child;
  • The relationship between each parent and child; and
  • Whether each parent could continue to support the physical and emotional needs of the child without becoming a danger to the child or themselves.

A custody order is contemplated to last until the child is an adult. However, if something changes which is serious and not foreseeable at the time of the original custody decree, the Court may consider modifying the custody decree.

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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