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Kevin O'Flaherty

In this article, we answer the question "what factors do courts consider when determining  child custody in Iowa?". We address the following:

  • What are the different types of child custody in Iowa?
  • What factors do courts consider for Iowa child custody?
  • How are child custody cases handled?
  • What if there is a history of abuse?
  • How are child custody arrangements enforced?

For some foundational information, check out our article: Iowa Child Custody Law Explained.

What are the different types of child custody in Iowa?

Child custody is the legal term used to describe the legal and physical custodial arrangements between a child and their parent(s) and/or guardian(s). In Iowa, there are four possible forms of child custody.

  • Joint legal custody — Both parents have equal rights when making decisions for a child. This includes decisions about medical care, education, and religious practices. In Iowa, joint legal custody is favored.
  • Sole legal custody — If joint legal custody is not deemed to be in the best interest of the child, sole legal custody will be awarded to one parent. They will be solely responsible for making all decisions in the child’s best interest.
  • Joint physical custody — Joint physical custody awards both parents equal (or as close to as possible) parenting time in their residences. In Iowa, joint physical custody is favored.
  • Sole physical custody — The child primarily resides with one parent in sole physical custody arrangements. The other parent may or may not have visitation rights.

Being awarded joint custody of one type does not guarantee joint custody of the other. For example, both parents might share joint legal custody of a child, but the child might only live with one parent full-time.  

What factors do courts consider for Iowa child custody?

The Iowa court considers several factors when deciding a child custody case. Because every child custody case is unique, it’s impossible to say which, if any, of the following factors are weighed more heavily than others by a judge.

  • Facts about the child (age, special mental or emotional needs, overall physical health)
  • Facts about the parents (age, financial stability, character, overall mental and physical health)
  • Relationships between each parent, child, siblings, and step-siblings before and after separation
  • Home environment and level of stability provided by each parent
  • Testimony of other family members, associates, or independent parties
  • Additional details as provided.

How are Iowa child custody cases handled?

In Iowa, most courts require at least one mediation session take place before a child custody case is taken to trial. If mediation fails, a trial will then be scheduled. At the trial, each parent is typically represented by a custody lawyer of their choice. After being presented with evidence and witness testimony from both sides, a judge will determine custody arrangements. The custody order is typically entered within a few weeks of a trial’s completion.

 How does a history of abuse impact child custody in Iowa?

If there is a history of domestic abuse (this includes protective orders, police involvement over domestic abuse claims, and convictions of domestic assault) with either parent, joint custody will not be automatically pursued. In regard to domestic abuse, sole custody is typically the best arrangement for a child. But if the parent in question’s legal team can prove there is no risk to the child, joint custody can still be awarded in such cases.

How are child custody arrangements enforced in Iowa?

After a custody decision has been reached, it is up to the parents to uphold the terms and conditions. If one fails to do so, the opposing parent can file a court action. If a parent is found to have violated a court order, such as denying visitation, they may be found in contempt and face consequences decided upon by the court. 

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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