How to file a divorce in Iowa

Filing a dissolution of marriage (aka divorce) in Iowa has specific residency requirements and procedures. Find out more about Iowa dissolution laws, including grounds for dissolution, spousal support (alimony), and child custody and support.

by Edward A. Haman, Esq.
updated May 11, 2023 ·  6min read

Getting divorced in Iowa is similar to getting divorced in most other states. A divorce in Iowa is called a dissolution of marriage. A dissolution for any married couple will accomplish two things: (1) severing the marital relationship, and (2) dividing assets and debts. If they have been married for a significant length of time and one of them will be unable to be self-supporting after the divorce, the issue of alimony may also arise. If there are minor children, they will also need to resolve issues of child custody, visitation, and support.

Residency and where to file

You may file for dissolution of marriage in Iowa at any time if your spouse is an Iowa resident and is served personally. If your spouse is not an Iowa resident or cannot be personally served, you will need to be a resident of Iowa for one year before you can file. You will file in the District Court in the county where either you or your spouse resides.


The most simple procedure is for an uncontested divorce. This is where you and your spouse can reach an agreement about the division of your property, and, if you have any children, what arrangements will be made for them. You begin the divorce procedure by preparing a document called a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, along with various other supporting documents. For an uncontested divorce, one of these documents will be a marital settlement agreement outlining the division of assets (and your agreement regarding any children). These documents are filed with the court, and copies of them are provided to your spouse. You will attend a court hearing, at which time the judge will make sure that all of your paperwork is in order, perhaps ask you a few questions, and enter your Decree of Dissolution of Marriage.   

Grounds for divorce

Grounds for divorce are legally recognized reasons to get a dissolution of marriage. This is the justification for severing the marital relationship. Iowa, like most states, has what are commonly called no-fault grounds for dissolution. Unlike most states, there are no traditional fault-based grounds in Iowa. To get a no-fault dissolution in Iowa, you need to state in the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage that “there has been a breakdown of the marriage relationship to the extent that the legitimate objects of matrimony have been destroyed and there remains no reasonable likelihood that the marriage can be preserved.”

Property division

A dissolution involves dividing property and debts between you and your spouse. Generally, you will be able to keep any property that you acquired at any time from a gift or inheritance. All other property will be divided after consideration of the following factors:

  • the length of the marriage
  • the property brought to the marriage by each party
  • each party’s contribution to the marriage, giving appropriate economic value to each party’s contribution to homemaking and child care services
  • each party’s age, and physical and emotional health
  • the contribution by one party to the education, training, or increased earning power of the other party
  • each party’s earning capacity, considering educational background, training, employment skills, work experience, length of absence from the job market, custodial responsibilities for children, and the time and expense necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the party to become self-supporting at a standard of living reasonably comparable to that enjoyed during the marriage
  • the desirability of awarding the family home, or the right to live in the family home for a reasonable period, to the party having custody or physical care of the children
  • the amount and duration of an order granting support payments to either party, and whether the property division should be in lieu of such payments
  • other economic circumstances of each party
  • the tax consequences
  • any written agreement made by the parties concerning property distribution, and
  • any other relevant factors

Alimony in Iowa

Alimony is called spousal support in Iowa. If the parties do have an agreement for spousal support, the judge may order spousal support (for a limited or indefinite length of time) after considering the following factors:

  • the length of the marriage
  • each party’s age, and physical and emotional health
  • the distribution of property
  • each party’s educational level at the time of marriage and at the time of filing
  • the earning capacity of the party seeking maintenance, including educational background, training, employment skills, work experience, length of absence from the job market, responsibilities for children under either an award of custody or physical care and the time and expense necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the party to find appropriate employment
  • the feasibility of the party seeking maintenance becoming self-supporting at a standard of living reasonably comparable to that enjoyed during the marriage, and the length of time necessary to achieve this goal
  • the tax consequences to each party
  • any mutual agreement made by the parties concerning financial or service contributions by one party with the expectation of future reciprocation or compensation by the other party
  • the provisions of a prenuptial agreement, and
  • any other relevant factors

Child custody in Iowa

If you and your spouse have any minor children, there will have to be a custody determination. It basically comes down to figuring out how the children’s time will be divided between the parents, and how decisions will be made. The Iowa child custody law states a preference for joint custody. If you and your spouse cannot reach an agreement on custody, the judge will decide the issue after considering the following factors:

  • whether each parent would be a suitable custodian for the child
  • whether the psychological and emotional needs and development of the child will suffer due to lack of active contact with and attention from both parents
  • whether the parents can communicate with each other regarding the child’s needs
  • whether both parents have actively cared for the child before and since the separation
  • whether each parent can support the other parent’s relationship with the child
  • whether the custody arrangement is in accord with the child’s wishes or whether the child has strong opposition, taking into consideration the child’s age and maturity
  • whether one or both the parents agree or are opposed to joint custody
  • the geographic proximity of the parents
  • whether the safety of the child, other children, or the other parent will be jeopardized by the awarding of joint custody or by unsupervised or unrestricted visitation
  • whether a history of domestic abuse exists, and
  • whether a parent allowed a person custody or control of, or unsupervised access to a child after knowing the person is required to register or is on the sex offender registry

Child support in Iowa

Child support is determined by taking into account the needs of the child, and each parent’s relative ability to meet those needs. This is determined by reference to the Iowa child support guidelines. The guidelines may be available from your court clerk’s office.

Miscellaneous matters

A final judgment of divorce may not be entered until at least 90 days after the respondent is served. Either party may the restoration of the name they had before marriage, or their name as shown on their birth certificate. Either party is entitled to demand mandatory conciliation efforts.

If you and your spouse agree on the major issues, an online divorce may be right for you. Otherwise, you can talk to an attorney to get advice or help filing for divorce with the LegalZoom personal legal plan.      

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Edward A. Haman, Esq.

About the Author

Edward A. Haman, Esq.

Edward A. Haman is a freelance writer, who is the author of numerous self-help legal books. He has practiced law in Hawa… Read more

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