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Iowa Child Custody
Child Custody in Iowa

According to the Iowa Code Section 598.41, Iowa awards joint legal custody in most cases, "unless there is evidence of domestic abuse. Physical custody may be awarded to either parent. The court considers several factors in considering what custody arrangement is in the best interest of the minor child."

Mandatory Parenting Class

Iowa courts often require all divorcing parents with minor children to complete a mandatory parenting class before granting a divorce. This requirement is designed to help parents and children deal with the trauma of divorce and separation. Unless the court grants a waiver, both parents must typically complete this requirement. Rather than give up an afternoon or evening taking your course in a crowded classroom, you can fulfill this requirement conveniently online at a very reasonable cost. We recommend you take Children in Between Online" to fulfill your court requirement and for the benefit of your children.

Best Interests of the Child

The court makes decisions in accordance with the best interests of the child. In doing so, the court shall take into consideration several factors as the basis of their decision. To determine the child's best interest, judges consider various factors, including the parents' suitability for custody, the child's psychological and emotional needs, the parents' ability to communicate, the parents' past care of the child, the child's preference, where each parent lives, the child's safety, and any history of domestic neglect or abuse.

Usually, joint custody is appropriate for most families since this encourages a continuing child-parent relationship. In this routine, the court selects a primary guardian with whom the child lives, and both parents share decisions and responsibilities in providing for the child's needs. However, if this is not possible, physical custody may be awarded to either parent. The court aims to maintain a strong child-parent relationship even after the parents' divorce or separation.

Iowa courts have jurisdiction over custody issues, and as mandated by child custody laws in Iowa, there are several parameters to determine the parent who can better take care of the child and provide for his or her needs. In considering custody, Iowa's family courts shall consider:

  • the parents' capability as the child's custodian;
  • the parents' ability to communicate with each other for the child's benefit;
  • the parents' living accommodations or geographical proximity;
  • the history of domestic violence or child abuse, if any;
  • the mental and physical health of the parties involved in custody proceedings.
  • the active participation of the parents in child care after their divorce;
  • the child's emotional and psychological needs and suffering if he or she has limited contact with both parents; and
  • the child' s disagreement or support about the custody agreement.

The court considers the child's reactions provided he or she is mature enough to make such claims, and it considers the risk to a child's well being in a particular custody arrangement.

Iowa child custody laws protect the best interests of the child; generally to preserve the child-parent relationship, joint physical custody may be awarded. This form of custodianship promotes continuing relationship between parents and children. However, joint custody may not be possible if the child's welfare is at risk with one parent or there is evidence of domestic abuse.

Types of Custody

Iowa child custody provides for three types of custody. Sole custody means that one parent makes all the important decisions with regard to the child's legal status, education, religion, medical care and health and welfare. Joint custody means that both parents have equal rights to make decisions for the child. Joint physical care means each parent is entitled to a shared living arrangement with the child in which neither parent has greater rights over the other to spend time with the child. Typically, courts order joint physical care in situations in which the court also orders joint custody.

The court enters a custody and visitation order that outlines the rights of each party. The court modifies it if there is a substantial change of circumstances. The party seeking a modification must convince the court that a substantial change of circumstance has occurred.

If a parent does not comply with a custody order, the other parent may notify the court to enforce the order. The court can find a noncompliant parent in contempt of court.

Iowa family courts encourage divorcing parents to amicably cooperate in raising their child. The court intervenes when divorcing parents cannot come to an agreement about the terms and conditions of child custody, support and visitation.

Joint Custody Preference

Iowa law expresses a preference for parents to share as equally as practically possible in the custody of a child in a divorce case. Joint custody means each parent has the same rights, not necessarily the same physical time with the child. Custody laws in Iowa define joint legal custody as an arrangement where both parties share equal rights and responsibilities in the decisions to be made for the child. In joint custody, neither parent's opinion holds more weight than the other's. If conflict arises over an issue between parents who share joint legal custody, the court will often order the mother and father to mediate the issue before the court will get involved and make a final decision. Parents can share joint legal custody even though one parent only may have physical care of the child.

Parental Conduct

In addition to finding a parent unfit because of substance abuse or abuse or neglect towards a child, the courts also consider the conduct of both parents during the course of the marriage, and the impact of parental behavior on the child. Courts presume against granting custody to a parent who has a history of domestic abuse under Iowa law.


The Iowa courts have full discretion when determining visitation between children and parents. The courts can establish visitation between one or more parent, even if both parents agreed upon a no-visitation policy.

The non-custodial parent normally receives as much visitation as is practical if the other parent is given primary legal and physical custody. The amount of the support ordered is determined by the combined income of both parents and additional issues, such as who provides health insurance for the child or pays for any childcare expenses that may be required.

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