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Family Law, Divorce and Child Custody, Support, and Visitation

How do I file for a divorce?

The Iowa Judicial Branch provides fillable and savable court forms and also interactive interviews to assist unrepresented persons in filing and completing a divorce, also known as a dissolution of marriage, without an attorney. Divorces, however, can be legally complicated, particularly when children are involved or if the parties have substantial assets to divide. In divorce cases, you should consider talking to an attorney.

The court forms on filing a divorce are available on the Iowa Judicial Branch website at: https://www.iowacourts.gov/for-the-public/court-forms/. From that page,

  • Open the “Divorce” file, then
  • Open the “Divorce with Children” (when there are minor or dependent children) or
  • Open the “Divorce with no Children” file, as is appropriate

There are also interactive court forms for family law matters available on the Iowa Judicial Branch website at: https://www.iowacourts.gov/for-the-public/representing-yourself/divorce/.

The Iowa Judicial Branch website also provides helpful “Guides” for persons representing themselves in divorce, child support, or child custody cases. These Guides are thorough, written in plain English, and should be reviewed before you begin representing yourself in a family law matter.

Please realize, however, that family law proceedings are often complicated, and you very well may need legal advice from an attorney for some or all of your family law matters.

How much are the court fees for family law matters?

The most common court fees are listed on the Iowa Judicial Branch website at: https://www.iowacourts.gov/for-the-public/representing-yourself/civil-court-fees/.

If you believe you cannot afford the filing fee, you can file an application and affidavit to defer payment of costs. Go to the Iowa Judicial Branch website at: https://www.iowacourts.gov/for-the-public/representing-yourself/iowa-interactive-court-forms/, and scroll down to the “Fee Waiver Interview” for access to an interactive interview to prepare the form.

What do I do if I am served divorce papers?

You should carefully read any papers you have received for information on filing an answer. For more information and interactive court forms go to the Iowa Judicial Branch website at: https://www.iowacourts.gov/for-the-public/representing-yourself/divorce/.

When do I have to file an answer to a divorce petition?

An answer is a defendant’s or respondent’s written response to a petition or complaint. An answer either admits or denies each of plaintiff’s or petitioner’s allegations. You should carefully read the papers you have received for information on answering the petition. There is a limited time for filing an answer.

If you do not respond to the petition by electronically filing an answer on time, the court may enter an order finding you in default and granting your spouse what was asked for in the petition. If you do not understand what is in the petition or how to file an answer, you should talk to an attorney.

For more information and interactive court forms go to the Iowa Judicial Branch website at: https://www.iowacourts.gov/for-the-public/representing-yourself/divorce/.

What is child support and how do I get it?

In Iowa, parents have a legal obligation to support their minor children. To get child support, you must obtain a court order that directs the other parent to pay child support to you. With child support one parent pays money to the other parent to help offset the expenses of raising the child or children of the parties. This financial obligation generally continues until the child turns 18, but the support obligation may continue beyond age 18 if the child is a full-time student in high school or college. The child support obligation may include support for a child of any age who is dependent on the parties because of physical or mental disability. See Iowa Code section 598.1(9).

How is the amount of child support determined?

Iowa law requires that the amount of a parent's child support obligation be determined by applying the Iowa Child Support Guidelines established by the Iowa Supreme Court. These Guidelines provide for the best interests of the children by recognizing the duty of both parents to provide adequate support for their children in proportion to their incomes. A court order setting the amount of support may vary from the Guidelines amount only if the court finds such adjustment is necessary to provide for the needs of the children and to do justice between the parties under the special circumstances of their case. See Iowa Code section 598.21(B).

The Iowa Child Support Guidelines are contained in chapter 9 of the Iowa Court Rules. Calculating the amount of child support using the guidelines is very complicated, and you likely will need help from an attorney to find the accurate amount given the unique circumstances of your case.

How do I pay child support?

All child support payments must be sent either to the Child Support Recovery Unit (CSRU) collection centers of the Iowa Department of Human Services or to the clerk of court office in the county where the court entered the child support order. Do not send child support payments directly to the other parent. If you are in doubt as to where to send your payment, check your child support order. See Iowa Code sections 598.22 and 252B.14.

If you have a question about a payment that is processed by the clerk of court office, you may check records at www.Iowacourts.gov and follow links to “Docket Record Search,” or contact the appropriate clerk of court office. If you have a question about a payment that is processed by CSRU, you may contact CSRU’s 24-hour interactive voice response at 1-888/229-9223 (toll free) or visit the CSRU website at: https://secureapp.dhs.state.ia.us/customerweb/.

How do I modify my child support amount?

Forms and instructions for obtaining a modification of child support and a “Guide to Representing Yourself in a Child Support Modification Case in Iowa” are available on the judicial branch website at: https://www.iowacourts.gov/for-the-public/court-forms/, then click on >Child Support and >Modifications.

Like divorce proceedings, child support modifications are often complicated. If you are confused or not sure how to proceed or how to fill out a form, you should talk to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, you may be eligible for legal services, or you may be able to afford to hire an attorney for a limited part of the legal proceeding. Another option may be to contact the Iowa Child Support Recovery Unit (CSRU). CSRU is part of the Iowa Department of Human Services, and its mission is to ensure that families receive the child support they need in order to be able to meet the financial and health needs of their children. The CSRU website is: https://secureapp.dhs.state.ia.us/customerweb/.

The other parent won’t let me see the kids. Do I still have to pay child support?

Yes. You must continue to make child support payments as long as there is a court order in place directing you to do so, even if the other will not let you visit your children. Visitation is a separate issue from child support. You should follow the directions of your divorce or custody decree and talk to an attorney regarding visitation issues.

How do I find out how much child support I owe?

The clerk of court may provide the party with a copy of the child support payment record for payments made to that clerk of court. This may only reflect part of the full payment record. A full payment record is available through any office of Iowa’s Child Support Recovery Unit (CSRU), if it is handling the case. Even if all payments were made through the clerk of court, the clerk will not attempt to calculate the amount of support owed. CSRU may be able to calculate the balance.

You may also go to the Iowa Judicial Branch website at: https://www.iowacourts.state.ia.us/ESAWebApp//SelectFrame , under “How do I…”, and then under “Search Court Records” to find your case. Once you have found your case, click on the “Financial” link and there is a “Pay Rec” button that will enable you to print your payment record, but you may have to pay a fee to become a subscriber. You may also contact the Child Support Recovery Unit at https://dhs.iowa.gov/child-support for further clarification.

I am moving to a different county or state. Do I still send my child support payment to the clerk’s office in this county? Or, do I send it to the clerk’s office in my new county?

Iowa Code section 252B.14 (3) requires child support payments to be made to the clerk’s office in the county where the child support order was filed. You should review the divorce decree or most recent support order, which should indicate where the support order is filed.

If your child support order involves the Child Support Recovery Unit, or if there is an income withholding order in your case, payments must be made to the Collection Services Center. See Iowa Code sections 252B.14(2) and 252B.14(4).

How do I change my child support payments?

How to change child support payments depends on the circumstances of each case. If the child support amount was set in a dissolution (divorce) or custody decree, a petition to modify the decree is necessary. If your case is with the Child Support Recovery Unit, you should contact CSRU (1-888-229-9223) or visit the CSRU website at: https://dhs.iowa.gov/child-support. In either instance you must file a specific request with the court. Forms and instructions for obtaining a modification of child support are available on the Iowa Judicial Branch website at: https://www.iowacourts.gov/for-the-public/court-forms/, then click on >Child Support and >Modifications.

Changing child support amounts can be complicated and you should talk to an attorney.

Can I pay my child support directly to the other parent?

No. Any money given directly to the other parent could be considered a gift, and not reduce the amount of court ordered child support you owe. You should follow the directions of the divorce, custody, or support decree in place or talk to an attorney if you still have questions about paying child support.

My child graduated from high school. Do I still have to pay child support?

Generally, child support continues until the child turns 18, even if the child has already graduated from high school. You should follow the directions of the divorce, custody, or support decree in place or talk to an attorney if you still have questions about paying child support. If you are behind in your child support payments, you will have to pay the amount still owed even if your child has turned 18.

My child has turned 18, do I still have to pay support?

Child support may continue after the child turns 18 if it is reasonable to expect the 18 year old to graduate or obtain a GED before the age of 19, and the 18 year old is attending school full time. In addition, if the child remains a dependent because of disability, the support obligation can be longer. See Iowa Code § 598.1(9). You should follow the directions of the divorce, custody, or support decree in place or talk to an attorney if you still have questions about paying child support. If you are behind in your child support payments, you will have to pay the amount still owed even if the child has turned 18 and is no longer in school full time.

Do I have to pay for my child’s education expenses after high school graduation?

A parent paying child support might also be required to pay a post-secondary or college education subsidy or costs through age 22 of the child if the court orders it. See Iowa Code section 598.1(8). In determining whether to order this support, the court will consider the age of the child, the child's abilities, the child's financial resources, whether the child is self-sustaining, and the financial condition of each parent.

You should follow the directions of the divorce, custody, or support decree in place or talk to an attorney if you still have questions about paying child support.

How is post-secondary education or college support calculated?

Answers to FAQs about Iowa Court Cases, Procedures, and Policies (8.30.21) Page 23 of 68
The amount of a court-ordered post-secondary education subsidy is based upon: (1) the reasonable cost of attending an in-state public institution for a course of study leading to an undergraduate degree and reasonable costs for only necessary post-secondary education expenses; and (2) the child's financial resources including the availability of financial aid and the child's ability to work while attending school.

After deducting the child's expected contribution, the court will apportion the remaining cost among the parents. However, the amount paid by each parent may not exceed 33 1/3 percent of the total cost of the post-secondary education. Post-secondary support is paid to the child or the educational institution—not to the custodial parent. See Iowa Code section 598.21F.

I’m behind in paying child support. What should I do?

If you are behind in paying child support but are able to catch up on the payments, you should do so. You may want to visit with an attorney about your child support obligation and to discuss your options. If you cannot afford an attorney, you can contact the Child Support Recovery Unit of the Department of Human Services at 1-888/229-9223 (toll free) or visit the Child Support Recovery Unit website at https://secureapp.dhs.state.ia.us/customerweb/, or contact Iowa Legal Aid.

The other parent is behind in paying child support, what can I do?

The circumstances of your case will determine how to handle the problem of the other parent being behind in child support payments. Iowa law provides a number of ways for enforcing a child support order, including income withholding, garnishment, liens, license suspension, and contempt of court. If a parent has not complied with a support order, the other parent must take steps to enforce the order. You should consult with an attorney about appropriate action or contact the Child Support Recovery Unit of the Department of Human Services at 1-888/229-9223 (toll free) or visit the Child Support Recovery Unit website at: https://secureapp.dhs.state.ia.us/customerweb/. See Iowa Code section 598.23.

How do I get the court records to show I’ve paid my final child support obligation?

When you have made your final child support payment, the party receiving the child support payments is responsible for signing a document, duly acknowledged or notarized, confirming your “Satisfaction of Judgment.” A judge will have to approve the “Satisfaction of Judgment.” Section 624.37 of the Iowa Code addresses satisfaction of judgments. If you are unsure how to proceed, talk to an attorney.

How do I make arrangements for child custody and visitation?

Child custody or visitation arrangements can be complicated and can depend on several factors, including whether paternity has been established, where the child and other parent live, and whether there already is a court order in Iowa or another state that sets out terms of custody and visitation. You should talk to an attorney. You may also wish to review the information available on the Iowa Judicial Branch website at: https://www.iowacourts.gov/for-the-public/court-forms/ and click on Custody (Parents Not Married), or Divorce. Additional information on child custody and support is available on the Iowa Judicial Branch website at: https://www.iowacourts.gov/for-the-public/court-forms/.

Do I need an attorney in a case with custody or visitation issues?

While representation from an attorney is not required in a case with custody or visitation issues, cases involving children can be complicated. You may want to contact an attorney to help you with all or some of the process.

I filed a petition for a divorce, but I changed my mind. How do I dismiss my divorce case?

You may file a Motion to Dismiss the case or a Dismissal of the case. If your spouse has filed an answer or response, both you and your spouse must sign the Motion to Dismiss or Dismissal. See Iowa Code section 598.3. The court may set a hearing on the motion.

I filed a petition for custody and visitation for unmarried parents, but I have changed my mind. How do I dismiss this case?

You may file a Motion to Dismiss the case or a Dismissal of the case. If your spouse has filed an answer or response, both you and your spouse must sign the Motion to Dismiss or Dismissal. See Iowa Code section 598.3. The court may set a hearing on the motion.

I cannot attend court on the date or time of the hearing. What should I do?

If you are unable to attend your court hearing at the time scheduled, you may electronically file a request in writing with the court before the hearing explaining why you cannot attend and requesting a new hearing time or date. There is no guarantee that the court will approve your request.

When is my divorce final?

You are divorced when a judge signs and files a final Decree of Dissolution of Marriage. The exact date and time of finalizing your divorce is shown by a time stamp across the top of the first page of the Decree.

When can I get remarried?

Persons with a valid, signed, time-stamped divorce decree may remarry. You will need to obtain a new marriage license from a County Recorder.

How do I change my name in a divorce case?

Name changes are often done through a divorce decree or annulment of marriage. See Iowa Code section 598.37, and Iowa court forms 17.101 or 17.201 to request a name change in the divorce petition available in the Iowa Court Rules or available on the Iowa Judicial Branch website at: https://www.iowacourts.gov/for-the-public/court-forms/. If you want to change your name outside of the divorce process, you must file a petition for name change. Name change forms are available on the Iowa Judicial Branch website at: https://www.iowacourts.gov/for-the-public/court-forms/, and interactive interview name change forms are available at: https://www.iowacourts.gov/for-the-public/representing-yourself/iowa-interactive-court-forms/.

How do I change my child’s name in a divorce case?

If there is a pending divorce or custody action, the name change of a minor child can be part of the divorce or custody proceeding. You should include your request for name change in your petition (if you are the petitioner) or answer to the petition (if you are the respondent), and the court can include the change in the final decree. See Iowa Code section 598.37.

Can I get a protective order in my divorce case?

Yes, you may ask for a protective order in your divorce case. You may also qualify for a domestic abuse protection order under Iowa Code chapter 236, or a sexual abuse protection order under Iowa Code chapter 236A. You can obtain a protective order upon presenting a petition to a judge. Information for victim resources and legal resources are available at the end of the Guide for domestic abuse protection on the Iowa Judicial Branch website at: https://www.iowacourts.gov/for-the-public/court-forms/, under the tab “Domestic Abuse or Violence”. There is also a Guide for domestic abuse actions (in English and Spanish) available from the website.

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