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Iowa Divorce Process
Preparing the Divorce Papers
Iowa has one set of forms for pro se filers that can only be used by couples who have no financially dependent children. Divorcing spouses are required to use these forms if they don't have children, but couples with minor children cannot use these forms and must contact the clerk of court for more information.
For those who qualify to use the pro se forms, Iowa has a simple, step-by-step set of instructions. Completion of the forms depends, in part, on whether a party is the petitioner, the spouse initiating the divorce, or the respondent, the spouse who is served with divorce papers.
The petitioner completes the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage with No Minor Children (Form FL-101), the Coversheet for a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage With No Minor Children (Form FL-102), the Confidential Information Form (Form FL-103), and the Original Notice for Personal Service. Once served with the petitioner's divorce papers, the respondent spouse completes the Answer to Petition for Dissolution of Marriage with No Minor Children (Form FL-115) if the petition was labeled FL-101. If the petition wasn't labeled FL-101, the respondent should use the General Answer Form (Form FL-116).
Neither party should sign any affidavits, oaths, or other sworn statements unless he or she is in the presence of a notary public.
A petitioner with children completes documents similar to the ones outlined above, but the contents of the petition may be different. Moreover, the petitioner needs to complete documents pertaining to child support and visitation. The clerk of court can help determine what documents to use.
Filing the Paperwork with the Court
The petitioner makes two photocopies of the petition and original notice for personal service if service is by mail, or makes three copies if service is by a sheriff or process server physically handing the documents to the respondent.
The petitioner files the original documents and the photocopies with the Civil Court's county clerks office. This must be filed in the county in which either party resides. Filing the petition allows the clerk to make record of the case and initiates the divorce process.
Before official record of the case can be recorded and the documents moved forward to the judge, the filing fee must be delivered to the clerk's office. The petitioner pays a filing fee unless he or she is indigent in which case he or she completes the Application and Affidavit to Defer Payment of Costs (Form FL-109) and the court agrees that the fee should be waived because the party cannot afford it.
The clerk files the original papers and time-stamps the papers, including the photocopies, and signs the original notice form. The petitioner then completes a Report of Dissolution of Marriage or Annulment form (except items 18 through 22, which the clerk completes).
Later, the couple delivers the Marital Settlement Agreement, which confirms that both parties have agreed on how the assets and debts will be distributed after the divorce (and prevents the added time of having the court divide the assets and debts) and the Parenting Agreement which avoids having the court dictate custody and visitation rights.
Serving the Documents
The petitioner delivers the divorce paperwork to the respondent as soon as possible. If the divorce papers aren't served within 90 days of filing, the petitioner's case is dismissed.
Service of process, which means giving the spouse copies of all the forms, ensures that everyone has an opportunity to “appear,” or argue, his or her point of view.
The petitioner sends the Original Notice and one copy of the petition to the respondent, and then files the appropriate proof of service form (contained in the petitioner's forms packet) with the court.
There are two service options. First, if the respondent is cooperative, the petitioner can deliver the forms in person or through regular first class U.S. Mail. Service includes the Acceptance of Service (Form FL-105), which the respondent signs so the petitioner can file it with the court as proof of service. Second, the petitioner can ask the sheriff or a private process server to physically hand the documents to the respondent (known as "personal service") and complete the Directions for Service of Original Notice (Form FL-106). The sheriff or process server then files the proof of service with the court.
The respondent has only have 20 days from the date he or she receives the petition to file an answer in the court where the petition was filed. If he or she does not make the 20-day deadline, the court can enter a default judgment against the respondent, which means that the court makes decisions without any input from the respondent.
Service on a respondent who is hard to locate, in jail, in the military, or in another state, requires special procedures.
Disclosing Financial Information
As soon as possible, both spouses complete the Financial Affidavit (Form FL-124, which is a sworn statement that outlines income, expenses, assets, and debts that help everyone to understand the full economic situation and assists the court in making fair decisions. The state of Iowa requires both parties to file Financial Affidavits to ensure there is a fair distribution of assets. This is also used to determine if any spousal maintenance will be necessary.
Finalizing the Divorce
Iowa mandates a 90-day waiting period from the time the initial petition is filed to the time a judge may sign the divorce decree. The parties receive the signed Decree of Divorce from the court. Once this has been filed, the divorce is legally dissolved.
Child custody laws in Iowa try to ensure that both parents develop a strong relationship with their children.
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