How to get divorced in Iowa

Tags: Online Divorce, Iowa

Image: Larry Lindell / iStock

By Steffan Lawson

Published Jul 27, 2022

Requirements to file divorce

  • If you do not have any minor children you may file for an expedited divorce by completing and submitting some simple forms (see below)

  • Iowa is a no-fault state, meaning that you only need to show that your marriage is broken and cannot be fixed.

  • Either you or your spouse must have resided in the state for at least 12 months to file for a divorce in Iowa.

  • If you have minor dependents in the household, you may need an attorney to complete and file the paperwork regarding alimony and child custody.

Grounds for divorce in Iowa

  • You only need to prove to the court that your marriage is irretrievably broken and cannot be repaired.

  • Both parties do not have to desire a divorce for one to be granted.

  • No one has to be at fault for the marriage to be dissolved.

  • As long as your spouse has lived in Iowa for the past 12 months, you may file for divorce in an Iowa county court.

Step 1: Starting the Iowa divorce process

A divorce proceeding in Iowa begins with the filing of a completed Petition for Dissolution of Marriage with the Clerk of Court’s office in the Iowa county where you or your spouse reside.  You must pay the appropriate filing fee when you submit the petition.  Make at least two copies of all documents (one set for yourself).

Iowa has divorce forms for petitioners who wish to represent themselves.  To use these forms, you cannot have any minor children in the household.

Step 2: Notifying your spouse

Iowa law requires that you serve notice of the divorce proceeding on your spouse in a timely manner.

  • Service process—after filing the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, you must provide a copy of all divorce documents to the local sheriff’s office. a process server from the sheriff’s office will then serve the papers on your spouse.

  • Mail—if the sheriff cannot locate your spouse, then you may attempt to serve your spouse by certified mail. Your spouse must sign the forms and return them to you to complete this form of process service.

  • Notice by Publication—if you cannot locate your spouse, you may petition the court to use Notice by Publication. If the court approves, you may place a notice in a local newspaper to satisfy the service requirement.

Once you have served your spouse with the divorce papers, your spouse must answer the Petition within 20 days or face losing certain rights.


If your spouse fails to respond to the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage within 20 days, the court may assume that your spouse agrees with the terms of the Petition.  The judge may choose to grant the divorce according to the terms of the Petition without any further input from your spouse.


If your spouse files an Answer to Petition for Dissolution of Marriage with no Minor or Dependent Adult Children or a General Answer with the court but agrees with all of the terms of the Petition, this is considered an uncontested dissolution of marriage.


In the case where you and your spouse have an ongoing conflict about issues like property division, child custody or alimony, and your spouse files an Answer that disputes the terms of the original petition, then the judge may force you and your spouse to proceed to a trial. a legal trial is a complicated procedure for which you will probably require an attorney to manage and represent your interests.

Step 3: Contested or Uncontested divorce?

Contested Divorce (High Cost)

If you and your spouse cannot resolve your issues, then you will have to engage in a trial.  At the trial, a jury or a judge will listen to the arguments of you and your spouse before issuing a judgment.

  • This is a complex legal process that often necessitates both sides hiring an attorney.

  • Although an attorney is probably much more knowledgeable about participating in a trial or other legal procedures, they often charge considerable fees for their services.

  • Both legal teams are likely to engage in a discovery process. Discovery can be a time-consuming process in which both parties’ claims are thoroughly investigated using witness interviews and other evidence.

  • Your attorney and your spouse’s attorney may engage in a protracted bargaining process. While negotiating may help produce an acceptable settlement, there is no assurance that negotiating may help.

  • Even if you hire an experienced divorce lawyer, there is no guarantee that the outcome of the trial will be in your favor.

Uncontested Divorce (Low Cost)

If you can begin the divorce process without any unresolved issues between you and your spouse, you will find the entire process much less troublesome and costly.

  • You may not even need to hire a divorce attorney to guide you through the process, potentially saving hundreds or thousands of dollars in legal fees.

  • Iowa has tried to make divorce a simple enough process that you may be able to obtain the proper forms and complete the entire procedure on your own.

  • The process is even more simple if you and your spouse are not parents of minor children.

  • If you simplify the divorce by producing an agreement between you and your spouse, you may be able to complete the divorce in as little as 90 days.

Step 4: Do it yourself or hire an attorney?

Self-Representation (Lowest Cost)

If you choose to represent yourself in the divorce proceedings you may find valuable assistance and resources at  You may also find help with completing the divorce process by following a guide published by the Iowa judicial system specifically intended for people representing themselves.

Mediation (Medium Cost)

The state of Iowa allows either spouse to request mediation, or, in some cases, the judge may order it independently. Mediation in the Iowa divorce process involves a non-legal professional with expertise in conflict resolution.  a mediator may be able to repair the marriage sufficiently enough to negate the need for a divorce or assist in producing an acceptable settlement that will expedite the divorce procedure. This mediation process may take up to 60 days. If minor children remain in the household, parents may be required to complete a course of parenting children involved in a divorce.

Divorce Trial (Highest Cost)

If you and your spouse are not able to resolve all of the issues surrounding the dissolution of your marriage, the judge will order a Temporary Hearing in which both parties will submit their arguments on unresolved issues. This is followed by a period of discovery where both legal teams will investigate claims made by both parties; the investigations may involve questioning witnesses and gathering evidence that could take weeks or months. Much of this evidence may then be presented to a jury or a judge at the trial.

Step 5:

Resolving the major issue

The major points of contention in most divorce cases involve issues of property division, child custody or spousal support.  If you plan on proceeding to a trial, here is some history of how Iowa courts typically adjudicate these issues.

Property Distribution

Iowa courts prefer for divorcing couples to reach an independent arrangement for property division.  If this is not possible, the court will step in and divide any marital property using some or all of the following factors:

  • The length of the marriage

  • The contribution of each party to the marriage

  • the age and health of the parties

  • The contribution by one party to the education or increased earning power of the other

  • Earning capacity of each spouse

  • Party having custody of the children

  • Tax consequences to each party

  • Any written agreement made by the parties concerning property distribution;

  • Provisions of an antenuptial agreement

  • other factors the court may determine to be relevant in an individual case.

Iowa is an equitable distribution state, meaning that property is allocated according to what is fair and just.  This does not necessarily mean that there is a 50/50 split.  Only marital property is distributed upon divorce; separate property, including assets owned prior to the marriage, are not typically involved in this process.

Property is valuated independently and then allocated to either spouse.  Major assets like real estate may be sold with profits divided accordingly, allocated to the parent with child custody, or bought out by one spouse.

Child Custody

The state of Iowa makes child custody decisions based on the best interests of the child. Iowa courts grant legal custody, i.e. the right to make decisions about the day to day care of the child, to one or both parents. The other half of child custody judgments involves physical care which is actual possession of the minor. Physical care may include physical custody as well as visitation rights. Iowa courts prefer to grant joint custody to serve the best interests of the child.

Determining who will receive custody of any minor children may include consideration of one or more of the following factors:

  • Who would be a suitable custodian for the child

  • Will the psychological and emotional needs and development of the child improve due to active contact with both parents

  • Can the parents communicate with each other

  • Have both parents actively cared for the child before and during the separation

  • Is the custody arrangement is in accord with the child’s wishes

  • Does either parent oppose joint custody?

  • The proximity of the parents

  • Is there a history of domestic abuse

Spousal Support

Iowa courts will grant one spouse spousal support or alimony if they can demonstrate that they are unable to financially support themselves, but the presumption is that this is a temporary order until the dependent spouse can obtain the education, training or employment to sustain themselves. It is possible to obtain permanent alimony, but the marriage must have been lengthy and the dependent spouse incapable of financially supporting themselves.

A few factors will be considered in awarding spousal support, including:

  • The standard of living in the marriage

  • The tax consequences of spousal support

  • Any agreement the parties had

  • The earning capacity of the spouse seeking support

  • Whether the dependent spouse is responsible for children

  • Length of the marriage.

Step 6: Finalizing your Iowa divorce

In Iowa, if you have no children and have reached an amicable settlement regarding the disposition of property and spousal support, then there is typically no need for a final hearing. Your final Decree of Divorce should be issued to you after 90 days from the filing.  If you do have children, then you and your spouse may have to attend a short hearing to finalize arrangements regarding the dependents.

If you or your spouse is contesting the original terms of the divorce, then you will probably have to take part in a jury or judge trial.  After the court makes a judgment on outstanding issues, it will issue a Decree of Divorce.