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Informal Family Law Trial Program

Informal Family Law Trial Program

Who can participate?

All family law cases where both parties are self-represented shall follow the non-traditional trial process.  For good cause shown, the court may allow the parties to opt-out of the non-traditional trial process.  Or, for good cause shown, a party represented by an attorney may opt into the non-traditional trial process with the consent of the unrepresented party. 

What types of family law cases are eligible?

Family law cases including divorces with or without children, legal separations, paternity (unmarried parent) cases, and modifications for child custody, visitation, and child support.

How does the program work?

  • Non-traditional trial cases are subject to the same pretrial procedures that apply to traditional trial cases including but not limited to, hearings on temporary matters, children in the middle attendance and mandatory mediation requirements, defaults, and pretrial or settlement conferences.
  • Trials shall generally not exceed one-hour to one-half day, and shall be scheduled in increments of 1 hour, ½ day, and 1 day.
  • The parties are subject to the mandatory discovery disclosure requirements of Iowa R. Civ. P. 1.500(1)(d). No additional or formal discovery will be allowed without leave of court on motion and after hearing.
  • The Iowa Rules of Evidence will not apply, except as the trial court may determine to be necessary for the timely and efficient presentation of evidence for the court’s determination of the issues raised.
  • Evidence at trial will be limited to the testimony of the parties and up to two witnesses per party. In addition, each party may present up to five affidavits, limited to 20 pages total for all five affidavits, double-spaced, from persons who otherwise would be called as w Each party may present up to two reports of expert witnesses in lieu of live testimony of such witnesses.  An expert witness report will count as one of the five affidavits allowed per party.
  • All affidavits and exhibits intended to be presented in lieu of testimony at trial must be filed electronically with the court and copies provided to the other party at least five days before the date of trial.
  • The trial court shall allow each party to provide testimony in narrative form, as relevant to the issues before the court. The judge may consult with the parties or their counsel on areas of the relevant inquiry. Otherwise, the trial court will direct all questions to witnesses during the trial. Cross-examination by the parties is not allowed.  In the event the Child Support Recovery Unit may be involved in the case, its representative may question the parties or witnesses on topics necessary to the proper determination of the issues of child and medical support.
  • Trial proceedings shall be reported, if possible.  In the event a certified court reporter is unavailable, and to avoid the continuance of the trial, the proceedings may be digitally recorded and preserved for possible appellate review.
  • Rulings by the trial court shall be expedited. The trial court shall file its written ruling within fourteen days of the trial.
  • The trial court, in the exercise of discretion, may dispense with findings of fact and conclusions of law, except as are necessary to support a deviation from child support guidelines calculations pursuant to Chapter 9 of the Iowa Court Rules. Forms for decrees and other family law dispositive orders shall be developed to assist the trial court in expediting its orders and rulings.
  • A brochure shall be developed by the 8th District to assist self-represented litigants in understanding the non-traditional trial process and how to appropriately participate in the process and prepare for trial.
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