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Divorce

Information on this web page is general in nature. Descriptions of laws and court procedures are abbreviated. This information is not intended as legal advice. If you do not understand this information or if you need legal advice you should see an attorney.

Iowa Law Overview

In Iowa, divorce is formally known as "dissolution of marriage," a term that is legally synonymous with divorce. Applicable Iowa laws may be found in chapter 598 of the Iowa Code, and forms are found in chapter 17 of the Iowa Court Rules. The forms are available free of charge on the Court Forms page of this website

The Petitioner is the party who files for divorce. The Respondent is the other spouse.

What are legal grounds for divorce?

Iowa recognizes "no fault divorce," which allows a marriage to be dissolved when there is evidence of a breakdown of the marital relationship with no likelihood it can be preserved.  The petitioner is not required to blame the other spouse for or prove any particular misdeed or wrong.  See Iowa Code 598.5 and 598.17.

Is there a residency requirement or a waiting period to get a divorce in Iowa?

Residency. If the respondent is a resident of Iowa and is personally served dissolution of marriage papers, there is no residency requirement.  Otherwise, the petitioner must have lived in Iowa for one year. See Iowa Code section 598.5.

Waiting period. Iowa law requires a ninety-day waiting period, from the date the respondent is served dissolution of marriage papers, before the court may enter a final decree. Under certain circumstances the court may waive the waiting period.  See Iowa Code section 598.19.

What is mediation? 

Mediation is a method of alternative dispute resolution that allows the parties to work together with a neutral third party to come to a resolution outside of court.  Before granting a dissolution, the court may require the parties to participate in mediation. The cost of the mediation is the responsibility of the parties. Mediation services are available throughout Iowa.  See Iowa Code section 598.7.

How will our property be divided?

Iowa is an "equitable distribution” state. The court will divide all of the spouses' property whether it was acquired before or after the marriage, except any gifts and inheritances received prior to or during the marriage. A portion of the property may be set aside in a fund for the support, maintenance, and education of any minor children. Marital fault is not a factor. A variety of factors are considered in any division of property, including, but not limited to:  the contribution of each spouse to the acquisition of the marital property; the value of any property brought to the marriage; the length of the marriage; and the age and physical and emotional health of the spouses. See Iowa Code section 598.21.

Will I have to pay spousal support?

Spousal support (also called "alimony") may be granted to either spouse for a limited or indefinite time, based on the following factors, including, but not limited to:  the time necessary to acquire sufficient education and training to enable the spouse to find appropriate employment and become self-supporting; the duration of the marriage; the financial resources of the spouse seeking alimony, including marital property apportioned to such spouse and such spouse’s ability to meet his or her needs independently; and the age and physical and emotional health of the spouses.  Support payments may be ordered to be paid through the court. See Iowa Code section 598.21A.

Can I change my name back to my maiden name?

Yes. If you are seeking a name change as part of a pending divorce, include your request for name change in your petition, and the court can include the change in the final decree.  See Iowa Code section 598.37.

Do we need a court order if we have already agreed on divorce terms?

Yes.  Even if you and your spouse agree to the terms of your divorce, the court must still review and approve those terms.  You are not divorced until a judge signs the final “decree of dissolution of marriage.”

How do I know when my divorce is final?  

You or your attorney will receive the final “decree of dissolution of marriage” through the Iowa eFile system.  Once a judge signs and files the final decree, the divorce is final.

How do I change certain provisions in my divorce decree?  

Dissolution decrees may be modified if the court finds that a substantial change of circumstances has occurred. A party must apply to the court for a modification of an decree. When determining if there is a substantial change in circumstances, the court will consider numerous factors, including:  changes in the employment, earning capacity, income, or resources of a party, changes in the physical, mental, or emotional health of a party, changes in the residence of a party, or remarriage of a party.  See Iowa Code section 598.21C.

What if I have a divorce decree from another state that I want to enforce in Iowa?

In general, Iowa must uphold and enforce court orders of other states. However, enforcing a divorce decree, particularly an order that includes child support, custody, or visitation provisions from another state may be complicated. Seek assistance from an attorney. If the matter involves the question of enforcing a child support order, the Child Support Recovery Unit in the Iowa Department of Human Services may assist you.

Do I need an attorney in divorce action with custody issues?

While representation is not required in a divorce action with custody issues, divorces involving children can be complicated. You may want to contact an attorney to help you with all or some of the divorce process. You may miss important issues or fail to anticipate the consequences of your lawsuits.  For these reasons people who are contemplating divorce should consult with an attorney, especially when children or significant marital assets are involved.

How do I begin a divorce? 

Before you file a divorce with children or respond to a petition for divorce, review the appropriate Guide for Representing Yourself in an Iowa Divorce: with children (PDF) or without children (PDF).  You will need to electronically file a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage and pay the $185 filing fee.  The petition together with an original notice must then be served on the respondent; there may be an additional cost for having the petition served on the respondent.  The respondent then has a reasonable time to file an answer.  If there are contested issuesif you and your spouse cannot agree on thingsthe case may eventually be set for hearing or trial before a judge.  Each judicial district may have special procedures as part of the divorce process, including mandatory mediation. 

What should I do if I am served with divorce papers? 

If you received an Original Notice naming you as the respondent in a dissolution action, you should review the appropriate Guide for Representing Yourself in an Iowa Divorce: with children (PDF) or without children (PDF).  You can file a response, also called an "answer".  There is a limited period of time in which you must file their answer:  generally the deadline is twenty-calendar days from the date of service (the date you received a copy of the petition), but this could vary according to individual circumstances of the case.  If you fail to respond, the court may enter an order finding you in default and granting your spouse what was asked for in the Petition.

What court forms do I use?

If you want to file for divorce or are responding to a divorce your spouse has filed without using an attorney, you must use the forms in chapter 17 of the Iowa Court Rules. The forms are available free of charge on this website. These is a set of forms for divorce with no minor or dependent adult children and a Guide (PDF) on how to use those forms. There is a different set of forms for divorce with minor or dependent adult children and a Guide (PDF) on how to use that set of forms. 

It is very important you read the Guide for the divorce forms.

If you do not understand how to use these forms talk to an attorney. Clerks of court and court staff cannot give you legal advice.

You must file electronically unless you get permission from the court to file in paper. If you are not already, you will need to become a registered user of the Iowa eFile system. See the User Guide and instructions.

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