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James Moriarty

In this article, we explain what is sometimes called alimony, which is referred to as spousal support in Iowa law.  The term alimony was often conflated with a stereotype that husbands somehow being punished rather than the appropriate remedy when wives were thought of as helpless without them, rather than equitable recognition of services of both parties bring to the family unit.

The law in Iowa relating to all aspects of marriage is located beginning in Iowa Code, Title XV JUDICIAL BRANCH AND JUDICIAL PROCEDURES, beginning in Ch. 595 and running through Ch. 600B.

The questions we will answer are:

  1. What Is Spousal Support?
  1. When Is Spousal Support Awarded In Iowa?
  1. What Factors Do Courts Consider When Awarding Spousal Support In Iowa?’
  1. How Is The Amount And Duration Of Spousal Support Calculated In Iowa?
  1. How Does The Division Of Property Affect Spousal Support In Iowa?
  1. How Does Child Support Affect Spousal Support In Iowa?  
  1. Can Spousal Support Be Modified In Iowa?
  1. When Does Spousal Support End?

What is Spousal Support?

Spousal support is a court-ordered provision – an enforceable Order - for support based on financial need.  Either spouse may be ordered to pay the other support, regardless of the gender. Failure to comply with orders can subject a payor spouse to contempt, including costs and jail time.  

Spousal support can be temporary, short-term, or permanent depending on each spouse’s circumstances.    

It is very important, particularly when one party has a much higher income, that the other party move quickly for temporary support.  A decree of temporary support can only be made retroactive for three months.1 The person seeking support can also ask for payments up front from the other party in order or them to not be disadvantaged in getting their own legal representation.  In Iowa the only factors that the Court can consider in setting temporary support are age of the applicant, the health condition and financial resources of both parties. Only if a party can establish by a preponderance of relevant evidence by testimony or affidavit can the Court consider any other factors, and then only to the degree that the matters are specifically stated in the application and Court considers them pertinent. A temporary support application cannot and should not be used to try the entire case on the merits. It is very helpful to have the assistance of counsel in preparing documentation, investigating the limited issues, and presenting the case for temporary support.

When is Spousal Support Awarded in Iowa?

Spousal Support is typically awarded when one party has a greater earning potential or assets than the other. In earlier times, the greater earning power and assets tended to be with the husband being the primary, if not the sole, source of a family’s income.  This advantage can be and often is leveraged against the wife, “only” the unpaid homemaker. The courts have come to better recognize the true value of the myriad services that provided by a homemaker, which are simply not available in the marketplace at reasonable cost, and how disparities should be equitably addressed.  

Spousal support may be awarded to the party that stayed in the home if they would not be financially stable without assistance from their spouse.  Sometimes spousal support is awarded temporarily while a spouse gains education or training to increase marketability in the workforce.  Conversely, if a spouse can be awarded support if one spouse was entirely devoted to the education and career of the other.  In this case, spousal support is meant to reimburse a spouse for sacrifices made during the marriage.  Again, it is very important to include a precise request, and factors like having a budget and expenses documenting what one is asking for.

What Factors Do Courts Consider When Awarding Spousal Support in Iowa?

Awards of spousal support vary greatly.  Your attorney can maximize the effectiveness of your request and present them concisely.  The Court will consider factors as follows:

  • Duration of the marriage;
  • Standard of living during the marriage;
  • Any agreements the parties had (whether prenuptial or during the marriage) that promised one spouse would compensate the other for contributions to a career.  Written, signed and notarized formal documents carry much more weight with the Court than oral statements, the backs of napkins, Tweets or texts;
  • Financial resources of both parties (determined after the division of assets);
  • Training or education the receiving spouse would need to sustain employment, which can be supported by showing an interrupted career or education by the actual event of marriage;
  • Earning capacity of the spouse seeking support, including the length of absence from the job market, skills, education, and experience;
  • Whether the receiving spouse is responsible for children of the marriage;
  • Relevant tax consequences.  An accountant can be crucial to these arguments, and not every judge, or lawyer, understands tax law; and
  • The age, physical, and mental health of both spouses.  Complete, up to date medical records and reports are a must.  

How is the Amount and Duration of Spousal Support Calculated in Iowa?

The amount and duration of spousal support is awarded at the discretion of the judge, based on weighing the individual factors on a case to case basis. This is called equitable division or distribution. There is no mathematical formula for guidelines in Iowa as in some other states.  

There are three types of spousal support that judges use as a basis for determining the amount and duration of spousal support: rehabilitative, traditional and reimbursement.  To learn more about each type of spousal support, see our article entitled How to Calculate Spousal support in Iowa.

How Does the Division of Property Affect Spousal Support in Iowa?

The distribution of marital assets – property or other jointly held assets that were acquired during the marriage can significantly impact the amount of spousal support awarded to the seeking spouse, if any.  For example, if a profit-sharing or trust account is awarded to one spouse, the Court may forgo an award of spousal support and direct the receiving spouse to use the funds to provide sufficient income.  Divorcing spouses could also attend mediation, allowing a neutral third-party to assist in the distribution of assets and other contested issues such as spousal support.

How Does Child Support Affect Spousal Support in Iowa?

It is important to understand that child support is an entirely different aspect of the law from child support. Child support is designed to only protect the best interests of children, whether there is a marriage or not. It is presumptively set by a set of guidelines your attorney can assist you in preparing.  It may be raised or lowered if the circumstances and finances of the parties calls for it, but only by Court Order. It is also important to keep in mind that visitation and child support do not depend on each other, and withholding visitation for child support, and vice versa, is not looked upon favorably by courts, and may affect both child and spousal support requests.

If the custodian of the child or children of the marriage is unable to support themselves due to the children being of an age or condition that hinders an individual’s ability to support said children, the court may grant both child support and spousal support to the custodial parent.  However, if a party is already receiving child support and no extenuating circumstances prevent the spouse from working, this could highly impact the final decision to award spousal support or the amount to be awarded.

Can Spousal Support be Modified in Iowa?

Yes.  Spousal support payments can be modified in the event of a substantial change in circumstances.  Examples of a substantial change in circumstances include: changes in employment, earning capacity, income, or resources of a party; receipt of an inheritance, pension, or large gift; changes in medical expenses of a party; changes in number or needs of dependents of a party; changes in the residence of a party; remarriage of a party; or other factors deemed relevant by the Court.

When Does Spousal Support end in Iowa?

Spousal support will end automatically if both spouses agree, either spouse or the child dies, or the receiving spouse remarries.  Children of the marriage attaining majority (age 18) also cease to be eligible for child support unless they are still in high school, in which case they can receive it until age 19.  Child support of disabled children can be offset by Social Security benefits, which your attorney can help you determine.

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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